Archive for February 2011

Week of Proper 16: Monday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  Ancient Ruins and Modern Buildings in Saloniki, Greece

(Courtesy of http://www.saloniki.org/)

Influences, Positive and Negative

AUGUST 28, 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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With this post I change translations again.  This is a helpful practice, for it refreshes one’s view of the Scriptures.  My studies of French have revealed to me the accuracy of the statement that any text loses something in translation from Language A into Language B.  So, as I read and study the Bible in English, I seek out various translations.  What one version misses, hopefully another retains.  And this practice helps me to read and hear the texts as if for the first time, for the familiar cadences of the Authorized (King James) Version, with which I grew up, can become obstacles to paying attention to the content.  This principle holds true, regardless of which translation to which one’s brain is attuned.

So, for the next unknown number of weeks, may we read and hear the words of Scripture according to the great Jerusalem Bible, from 1966.

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1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (The Jerusalem Bible):

From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the Church in Thessalonika which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; wishing you grace and peace.

We always mention you in our prayers and thank God for you all, and constantly remember before God our Father how you have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We know, brothers, that God loves you and that you have been chosen, because when we brought the Good News to you, it became to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.  And you observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction, and you were led to become imitators of us, and of the Lord; and it was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that you took to the gospel, in spite of the great oppression all round you.  This has made you the great example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia since it was from you that the word of the Lord started to spread–and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for the news of your faith in God has spread everywhere.  We do not need to tell other people about it; other people tell us how we started to work among you, how you broke with idolatry when you converted to God and became servants of the real, living God; and how you are now waiting for Jesus, his Son, whom he raised from the dead, to come down from heaven to save us from the retribution which is coming.

Psalm 149:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker;

let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3 Let them praise his Name in the dance;

let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people

and adorns the poor with victory.

5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;

let them be joyful on their beds.

Matthew 23:13-22 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when you have him you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.

Alas for you, blind guides!  You who say, ‘If a man swears by the Temple, it has no force; but if a man swears by the gold of the Temple, he is bound.’  Fools and blind!  For which is of greater worth, the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?  Or else, ‘If a man swears by the altar it has no force; but if a man swears by the offering that is on the altar, he is bound.’  You blind men!  For which is of greater worth, the offering or the altar that makes the offering sacred?  Therefore, when a man swears by the Temple he is swearing by that and the One who dwells in it.  And when a man swears by heaven he is swearing by the throne of God and by the One who is seated there.

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The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; 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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Acts 17:1-10 tells of the Apostle Paul’s short (three weeks or so) stay in Thessalonica (modern-day Salonika), a prosperous crossroads and center of commerce in Greece.  He met with much hostility from certain Jews, but apparently made a strong and favorable impression on other people, as 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 testifies.  This epistle dates to approximately 50 C.E., a fact which places it roughly equidistant in chronology between the crucifixion (one of Paul’s great themes) and the writing of the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the canonical Gospels.  So, when we read 1 Thessalonians, we read one of the oldest documents of the Christian faith.

Paul needed to plant Christianity in Thessalonica because of the three most important factors in real estate:  location, location, and location.  The road that connected Rome to the East was the main thoroughfare in Thessalonica.  So planting a church there helped to spread the Good News of Jesus to many other places.

Paul was in very good spirits in Chapter 1.  His mood darkened as the epistle continued, however.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves.  The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following covers almost every word of 1 Thessalonians, so I will get to the rest very shortly.  For now let us focus on the text for today;  Paul opens with praise for the renowned faithfulness of the Thessalonian congregation.  He had drawn them to Christ by a lived example, and they were doing likewise for others.  Paul had been a positive influence.

Jesus, in contrast, was angry in Matthew 23.  As much as I have strong disagreements with the Jesus Seminar, I must admit that their Annotated Scholars Version of the Gospels is the most direct rendering of that text for today.

Alas to you

in The Jerusalem Bible becomes

Damn you!

(So much for the Sweet Jesus of many juvenile Sunday School classes!)  But it is clear that Jesus was not being sweet in Matthew 23.  Rather, he was being justifiably critical of professional religious people who imposed needless religious burdens on well-meaning individuals.  These religious elites were, as we say in North America, too clever by half.  They favored ridiculously complicated rules about when swearing an oath was valid.  Jesus cut through these traditions like a knife through soft butter; all religious oaths involved God.

 So stop playing games

is my paraphrase of Jesus here.

This seems like a good time to quote Matthew 5:33-37 (The Jerusalem Bible).  This is part of the Sermon on the Mount:

Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors:  You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord.  But I say this to you:  do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king.  Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black.  All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

My cumulative lesson is this:  Lived faithfulness will result from proper attitudes.  How can it not?  Anyhow, we are all examples.  But what kind are you?  What kind of example am I?  We are examples of that which animates us.  May this animating force be God Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.  And may his concern for others (in all aspects) be ours as well.  May we follow him.  And as we do this, may we remember these words, from Matthew 6:1:

Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.

Jesus was not always sweet, but he was inspiring and wise.  He still is.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/influences-positive-and-negative/

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Proper 16, Year A   32 comments

Above:  Saint Peter, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

Upon This Rock…

The Sunday Closest to August 24

The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

AUGUST 27, 2017

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Exodus 1:8-2:10 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people,

Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.

Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,

When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.

But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them,

Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?

The midwives said to Pharaoh,

Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.

So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people,

Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him,

This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,

she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter,

Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?

Pharaoh’s daughter said to her,

Yes.

So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her,

Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.

So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses,

because,

she said,

I drew him out of the water.

Psalm 124 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 If the LORD had not been on our side,

let Israel now say,

2 If the LORD had not been on our side,

when enemies rose up against us;

3 Then they would have swallowed us up alive

in their fierce anger toward us;

4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us

and the torrent gone over us;

5 Then would the raging waters

have gone right over us.

6 Blessed be the LORD!

he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler;

the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

8 Our help is in the Name of the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Isaiah 51:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version):

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,

you that seek the LORD.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

and to the quarry from which you were dug.

Look to Abraham your father

and to Sarah who bore you;

for he was but one when I called him,

but I blessed him and made him many.

For the LORD will comfort Zion;

he will comfort her waste places,

and will make her wilderness like Eden,

her desert like the garden of the LORD;

joy and gladness will be found in her,

thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Listen to me, my people,

and give heed to me, my nation;

for a teaching will go out from me,

and my justice for a light to the peoples.

I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,

my salvation has gone out

and my arms will rule the peoples;

the coastlands wait for me,

and for my arm they hope.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,

and look at the earth beneath;

for the earth will wear out like a garment,

and those who live on it will die like gnats;

but my salvation will be forever,

and my deliverance will never be ended.

Psalm 138 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart;

before the gods I will sing your praise.

2 I will bow down toward your holy temple

and praise your Name,

because of your love and faithfulness;

3 For you have glorified your Name

and your word above all things.

4 When I called, you answered me;

you increased my strength within me.

5 All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD,

when they have heard the words of your mouth.

6 They will sing of the ways of the LORD,

that great is the glory of the LORD.

7 Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly;

he perceives the haughty from afar.

8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;

you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;

your right hand shall save me.

9 The LORD will make good his purpose for me;

O LORD, your love endures for ever;

do not abandon the works of your hands.

SECOND READING

Romans 12:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 16:13-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

And they said,

Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

He said to them,

But who do you say that I am?

Simon Peter answered,

You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answered him,

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; 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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What is the rock upon which Jesus built his Church?  I have read various analyses, and the one that makes the most sense to me is God.  Simon Peter was the first pebble upon this rock, and each subsequent believer and follower is another pebble.  The pebbles are the Church.  So God is the foundation of the Church.

God is also the rock from Isaiah 51.  God is the rock from which we are hewn, the quarry from which we are cut.  So our lives and identities derive from God.  We Christians  stand in a long tradition that stretches back to Abraham and Sarah; the Jews are, as Pope John Paul II said, our elder brothers and sisters in faith.  God, the rock, was the strength of the Hebrews when they were slaves in Egypt.  God, the rock, provided the means of their political liberation.  And God, the rock, provides the means of our spiritual liberation.  As Paul reminds us in Romans, this liberation will be evident in our attitudes and relationships.

Next Sunday’s Gospel Reading will pick up where this one leaves off.  In it Jesus predicts his capture, torture, death, and resurrection.  Then Peter, horrified, protests.  But Jesus says to the Apostle he just praised highly a few breaths previously,

Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

Peter did not understand yet.  Maybe only Jesus did.  So let us take comfort in the fact that one does not need to achieve spiritual mountainhood to be an effective and important pebble in the rock mass that is the Christian Church.  We have to begin somewhere, so why not where we are?  But let us move on from there to where Jesus wants us to go.

KRT

Week of Proper 15: Saturday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  Boaz and Ruth, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Righteousness, Genuine and Fake

AUGUST 26, 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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Ruth 2:1-11; 4:13-17 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a man of substance, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi,

I would like to go to the fields and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone who may show me kindness.

She replied,

Yes, daughter, go;

and off she went.  She came and gleaned in a field, behind the reapers; and, as luck would have it, it was the piece of land belonging to Boaz, who was of Elimelech’s family.

Presently Boaz arrived from Bethlehem.  He greeted the reapers,

The LORD be with you!

And they responded,

The LORD bless you!

Boaz said to the servant who was in charge of the reapers,

Whose girl is that?

The servant in charge of the reapers replied,

She is a Moabite girl who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’   She has been on her feet ever since she came this morning.  She has rested but little in the hut.

Boaz said to Ruth,

Listen to me, daughter.  Don’t go to glean in another field.  Don’t go elsewhere, but stay here close to my girls.  Keep your eyes on the field they are reaping, and follow them.  I have ordered the men not to molest you.  And when you are thirsty, go to the jars and drink some of [the water] that the men have drawn.

She prostrated herself with her face to the ground, and said to him,

Why are you so kind as to single me out, when I am a foreigner?

Boaz said in reply,

I have been told of all you that you did for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and came to a people you had not known before….

So Boaz married Ruth; she became his wife, and he cohabited with her.  The LORD let her conceive, and she bore a son.  And the woman said to Naomi,

Blessed be the LORD, who has not withheld a redeemer from you today!  May his name be perpetuated in Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain your old age; for he is born of your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons.

Naomi took the child and held it to her bosom.  She became its foster mother, and the women gave him a name, saying,

A son is born to Naomi!

They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, father of David.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who all fear the LORD,

and who follow in his ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus be blessed.

5 The LORD bless you from Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

6 May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Matthew 23:1-12 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus addressed the crowds and his disciples.

The scribes and the Pharisees speak with the authority of Moses,

he told them,

so you must do what they tell you and follow their instructions.  But you must not imitate their lives!  For they preach but do not practise.  They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders–yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them. Their whole lives and planned with an eye to effect.  They increase the size of their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their robes; they love seats of honour at dinner parties and front places in the synagogues.  They love to be greeted with respect in public places and to have men call them ‘rabbi!”  Don’t you ever be called ‘rabbi”–you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers.  And don’t call any human being ‘father’–for you have one Father and he is in Heaven.  And you must not let people call you ‘leaders’–you have only leader, Christ!  The only ‘superior’ among you is the one who serves the others.  For every man who promotes himself will be humbled, and every man who learns to be humble will find promotion.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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“…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king….”

–Matthew 1:5-6a (Revised Standard Version)

I type readings into these posts as part of a spiritual exercise.  Slowing down long enough to enter each word via my fingertips helps me pay close attention to the texts.   Sometimes whimsical thoughts occur to me as I interact with the stories.  So it was, that as I typed part of Ruth 2, I read that Boaz greeted his reapers with,

The LORD be with you!

and that they responded,

The LORD bless you!

If they had answered,

And also with you,

I mused, they might have been Episcopalians.

Seriously, though, good-natured denominational humor aside, I detected a common thread:  How we treat each other is vital in our faith life.  Let us begin with the Book of Ruth.

Boaz was a pious, kind, and wealthy man.  He did not have to permit Ruth to glean in his field, but he chose to do so.  And he, older than Ruth, fell in love with her and married her.  Furthermore, they had a son, Obed (Hebrew for servant or worshiper), who became the grandfather of King David.  I wonder if Boaz’s sensitivity to Ruth’s situation was related to his ancestry, as his mother was the prostitute Rahab, who rescued Hebrew spies in Joshua 2.  He does not seem to have been the kind of man who measured people according their pedigrees.

The genealogy of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 1:1-17, is quite interesting.  Most of the names are male, so the occasional mention of a woman by name requires careful attention.  There is Mary, of course, but one also reads the names Rahab (a prostitute) and Ruth (a foreigner).  Bathsheba is also there, but not by name; she is “the wife of Uriah.”  So this family tree mentions four women, three of whom had dubious sexual reputations during their lifetimes.  The fourth was merely foreign-born, a fact about which some people were sensitive.  Why else would local women associate young Obed with Naomi, not Ruth?

Anyhow, the love match of Ruth and Boaz enriched their lives and that of Naomi.  It also constituted another link in the chain leading to Jesus.  That chain included some seemingly unlikely and not respectable people.

Jesus condemns some respectable people in Matthew 23.  There was nothing wrong with tassels or phylacteries; both are Biblical.  (See Exodus 13:1-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41; and Deuteronomy 22:12.)  But ostentatious displays of religion and quests for social honor attracted our Lord and Savior’s condemnation.  No, he said, one ought to seek opportunities to serve, not to be served.

Obed was the son of Boaz and Ruth.  His name meant “servant” or “worshiper.”  The greatest, Jesus said, was the servant of all.  The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted.  Or, as J. B. Phillips translated the text, “For every man who promotes himself will be humbled, and every man who learns to be humble will find promotion.”  This is the order in the Kingdom of God.  Thanks be to God!  May we learn this lesson, inwardly digest it, and act accordingly.  In so doing may we transform ourselves, each other, our communities, our societies, our politics, and our world.

KRT

A PRAYER OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is despair hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/righteousness-genuine-and-fake/

Week of Proper 15: Friday, Year 1   13 comments

Above: Naomi and Her Daughters-in-Law, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

“For wherever you go, I will go….”

AUGUST 25, 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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Ruth 1:1-22 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In the days when the chieftains ruled, there was a famine in the land; and a man of Bethlehem in Judah, with his wife and two sons, went to reside in the country of Moab.  The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name was Naomi, and his two sons were named Mahlon and Chilion–Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah.  They came to the country of Moab and remained there.

Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons.  They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth, and they lived there about ten years.  Then those two–Mahlon and Chilion–also died; so the woman was left without her two sons and without her husband.

She started out with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab; for in the country of Moab she had heard that the LORD had taken note of His people and given them food.  Accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, she left the place where she had been living; and they set out on the road back to the land of Judah.

But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law,

Turn back, each of you to her mother’s house.  May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me!  May the LORD grant that each of you find security in the house of a husband!

And she kissed them farewell.  They broke into weeping, and said to her,

No, we will return with you to your people.

But Naomi replied,

Turn back, my daughters!  Why should you go with me?  Have I any more sons in my body who might be husbands for you?  Turn back, my daughters, for I am too old to be married.  Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I were married tonight, and I also bore sons, should you wait for them to grow up?  Should you on their account debar yourselves from marriage?  Oh no, my daughters!  My lot is far more bitter than yours, for the hand of the LORD has struck out against me.

They broke into weeping again, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law farewell.  But Ruth clung to her.  So she said,

See, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and her gods.  Go follow your sister-in-law.

But Ruth replied,

Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you.  For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.  Thus and more may the LORD do to me if anything but death parts me from you.

When [Naomi] saw how determined she was to go with her, she ceased to argue with her; and the two went on until they reached Bethlehem.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole city buzzed with excitement over them.  The women said,

Can this be Naomi?

She replied,

Do not call me Naomi.  Call me Mara, for Shaddai has made my lot very bitter.  I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.  How can you call me Naomi, when the LORD has brought me back empty.  How can you call me Naomi, when the LORD has dealt harshly with me, when Shaddai has brought misfortune upon me!

Thus Naomi returned from the country of Moab; she returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabite.  They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Psalm 146 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the LORD as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,

for there is not help in them.

3 When they breathe their last, they return to earth,

and in that day their thoughts perish.

4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!

whose hope is in the LORD their God;

5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;

who keeps his promise for ever.

6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,

and food to those who hunger.

7 The LORD sets the prisoner free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;

the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down.

8 The LORD loves the righteous;

the LORD cares for the stranger;

he sustains the orphan and the widow,

but frustrates the way of the wicked!

9 The LORD shall reign for ever,

your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Hallelujah!

Matthew 22:34-40 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they came up to him in a body, and one of them, an expert in the Law, put this test-question:

Master, what is the Law’s greatest commandment?

Jesus answered him,

‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’  This is the first and great commandment.  And there is a second like it:  ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’  The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Naomi:  Do not call me Pleasant.  Call me Bitterness, for Shaddai has has made my lot very bitter.  I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.  How can you call me Pleasant, when the LORD has dealt harshly with me, when Shaddai has brought misfortune upon me!

–Ruth 1:20-21 (TANAKH), with name meanings taking the places of names

Names mean a great deal in the Book of Ruth.  Bethlehem means “the house of bread,” but there is a famine there.  Naomi means “pleasant,” while the name of her husband, Elimelech, means “my God is king.”  They have two sons, Mahlon, or “sickness,” and Chilion, or “consumptive.”  (Consumption was an old term for tuberculosis.) The name of  Orpah, who left for her mother’s house and (presumably) a second husband, means “back of the neck.”  But Ruth means “friend” or “companion.”  And, Boaz, whom we will meet in Chapter 2, bears a name meaning “in him is strength.”  Mara, of course, means “bitterness.”

Feminism has benefited women greatly, freeing many of them from economic dependence on men.  But Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth did not live in a society blessed by feminism.  Naomi understood that she was past the age to remarry, and that her life would most likely be difficult, given that her husband and sons were dead, and that there were no grandsons.  But Orpah and Ruth, her Moabite daughters-in-law, could remarry and find security.  Orpah decided to take this option, and why not, given the circumstances?  But Ruth chose a riskier path and attached her fate to that of Naomi, who had to return home, to Bethlehem.

Ruth was a Moabite, a member of a tribe descended from incest between Lot and one of his daughters.  That, at least, is the origin story from Genesis.  She was a foreigner and a polytheist.  Then she converted to the Hebrew faith, but she will still a foreigner.  So moving to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law meant living as an immigrant.  What neither she nor Naomi knew was that something far better than either of them knew awaited them there.  That, however, will come in the next day’s entry.

The reading from Matthew contains a famous quote from Jesus.  He fielded a trick question as to the greatest commandment.  So he gave an honest and excellent answer in which none of his would-be tricksters could find fault.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. His point was simple:  Human love is grounded in love of God.  Rabbi Hillel (died 10 C.E.) summarized the Torah by quoting the Jewish version of what we Christians call the Golden Rule.  “The rest,” he said, “is commentary.”  Jesus agreed, and so do I.

Ruth grasped this simple yet profound lesson; her life bore witness to it.  May we do likewise.

As to Naomi, her bitterness was understandable.  I grasp it, in my own way.  Sometimes circumstances, which might me somewhat or entirely beyond our control, destroy our security, especially that of the economic variety.  Yet, without resorting to annoying and inaccurate Polyannishness or Leibnizian Optimism, hope remains.  Not everything that happens is for the best.  Voltaire was correct; some events are just bad.  But we are not alone.  God is with us, and people around us can be instruments of grace.  And what follows the disaster might be better, in God’s way, than what it replaces.  But will we trust God long enough to find out?

I am exploring these themes in my life as I write these words.  So the text of Ruth 1:1-22 hits home with me in a powerful way.  Perhaps they do with you, O reader, as well.  I, too, find it difficult to trust God sometimes.  I,  too, wrestle with bitterness, frustration, and disappointment.  Yet I know that abandoning hope is a sure way to hopelessness, and I refuse to travel that path.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/for-wherever-you-go-i-will-go/

Posted February 24, 2011 by neatnik2009 in August, Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1

Tagged with , ,

Week of Proper 15: Thursday, Year 1   14 comments

Above: Parable of the Great Banquet, by Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

Image in the Public Domain

We Cannot Thwart God’s Ultimate Will

AUGUST 24, 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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Judges 13:1-7 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The Israelites again did what was offensive to the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.

There was a certain man from Zorah, of the stock of Dan, whose name was Manoah.  His wife was barren and had borne no children.  An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her,

You are barren and have borne no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son.  Now be careful not to drink wine or other intoxicant, or eat anything unclean.  For you are going to conceive and bear a son; let no razor touch his head, for the boy is to be a nazirite to God from the womb on.  He shall be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

The woman went and told her husband,

A man of God came to me; he looked like an angel of God, very frightening; I did not ask him where he was from, nor did he tell me his name.  He said to me, ‘You are going to conceive and bear a son.  Drink no wine or other intoxicant, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy is to be a nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death!’

Psalm 139:10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10 If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,

and the light around me turn to night,”

11 Darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day;

darkness and light to you are both alike.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made;

your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you,

while I was being made in secret

and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;

all of them were written in your book;

they were fashioned day by day,

when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God!

how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand;

to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

Matthew 22:1-14 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus began to talk to them again in parables.

The kingdom of Heaven,

he said,

is like a king who arranged a wedding-feast for his son.  He sent his servants to summon those who had been invited to the festivities, but they refused to come.  Then he tried again; he sent some more servants, saying to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Here is my banquet all ready, by bullocks and fat cattle have been slaughtered and everything is prepared.  Come along to the wedding.”‘  But they took no notice of this and went off, one to his farm, and another to his business.  As for the rest, they got hold of the servants, treated them with insults, and finally killed them.  At this the king was very angry and sent his troops and killed those murderers and burned down their city.  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding-feast is all ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it.  So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’  So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike.  And the hall became filled with guests.  But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding.  “How did you come in here, my friend,” he said to him, “without being properly dressed for the wedding?”  And the man had nothing to say.  Then the king said to the ushers, “Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside, where there will be tears and bitter regret!”  For many are invited but few are chosen.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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It is customary in The Episcopal Church that, at when the priest or deacon finishes reading the Gospel lection, he or she says,

The Gospel of the Lord,

to which the congregation answers,

Praise to you, Lord Christ.

I recall a situation one Sunday evening at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  Beth Long, the Rector, read the assigned lesson from the Gospels for that day.  It was a disturbing and unpleasant text.  Then she said,

The Gospel of the Lord.

All of us in the congregation mumbled hesitantly,

Praise to you, Lord Christ.

I have the same response when pondering Matthew 22:1-14.

Tradition calls this text the Parable of the Great Banquet.  Yet William Barclay insists correctly that it is really two parables.  The first ends with the king rounding up wedding guests on street corners.  The subtext is clear; those who have rejected Jesus as Messiah are unworthy to attend the wedding banquet.  And the destruction in the story echoes the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  The Gospel of Matthew dates to the middle 80s C.E., in a Jewish Christian community on the margins of Jewish life.  Certain emotions tend to accompany marginal status, especially when one is marginalized involuntarily.  They are on full display in this text.

The second parable concerns the man who did not come to the wedding feast attired properly.  He did not care about the matter, a major breach of protocol in that society.  His disrespect led to his removal from the banquet.  My North American society is increasingly informal in matters of attire, and this is not entirely bad.  But sometimes it goes too far.  One student in a class for which I was a Teaching Assistant came to the classroom on the day of the Final Exam in his pajamas, slippers, and bathrobe.  How one presents oneself in public indicates how one regards others.  There is social etiquette and decorum to maintain; it makes public interactions go more smoothly.  So how much more true must showing respect toward God be?

Understand me correctly.  During my last year of high school I tutored a Middle Grades student after school.  Joe and his family attended a Southern Baptist church in Berrien County, Georgia.  He mentioned once that some elderly members of the congregation had criticized him for wearing tennis shoes to church.  Joe asked me what I thought.  I replied that God has concerns greater than whether Joe wore tennis shoes to church.  In fact, I wear tennis shoes to church sometimes.  But they are clean and presentable.

There is, however, great value in dressing up for certain occasions.  I feel one way when I wear a suit and a tie (often with a fedora) and another when I wear jeans and a tee-shirt.  I feel quite comfortable in both states, but I would never think of wearing jeans and a tee-shirt (no matter how clean and presentable they might be) to certain occasions.  This is simply a matter of decorum.

So the second parable teaches that we must approach God with our best.  This being from the Gospels, the meaning goes far deeper than wardrobe, although that is a matter for some people.  How does one live?  The king invited the good and the bad alike to the banquet, but all were expected to uphold certain standards after they arrived.  We can all come to God by route or another, but this is not cheap grace that demands nothing of us.  No, we must respond to God honestly and faithfully.  This will require something of us.

So the king filled the banquet hall one way or another.  Nothing could thwart his will–only require him to change tactics.

Then there is the story of Samson, the beginning of which is today’s reading from Judges.  I encourage everyone to read the whole thing again or for the first time; it is a very good story.  Samson was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, the brightest crayon in the box.  Neither was he self-disciplined, especially with regard to women, namely Delilah.  But, despite all these facts, God worked through Samson to deliver the Israelites from the Philistine oppression.  Samson died in the process, for the building fell down on top of him, along with many Philistines, but this end was not necessary.  Samson could have avoided it with some more intelligence and a dose of self-discipline.  He was weak, though, and he paid the price for that.

Yet God’s ultimate will came to fruition via Samson, despite Samson’s character.

Is it not better cooperate with God rather than abuse our free will and force God to change strategies?  Is not cooperating with God a sign of healthy respect?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/we-cannot-thwart-gods-ultimate-will/

Week of Proper 15: Wednesday, Year 1   7 comments

Above: The Death of Abimelech, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

What You Get Might Not Be What You Expect–For Good or For Ill

AUGUST 23, 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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Judges 9:6-15 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

All the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo convenend, and they proclaimed Abimelech king at the terebinth of the pillar at Shechem.  When Jothan was informed, he went and stood up on top of Mount Gerizim and called out to them in a loud voice.

Citizens of Shechem!

he cried,

listen to me, that God may listen to you.

Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves.  They said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’  But the olive tree replied, ‘Have I, through whom God and men are honored, stopped yielding my rich oil, that I should go and wave above the trees?’  So the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’  But the vine replied, ‘Have I stopped yielding my new wine, which gladdens God and men, that I should go and wave above the trees?’  Then all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘You come and reign over us.’  And the thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you are acting honorably in anointing me king over you, come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, may fire issue from the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’

Psalm 21:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The king rejoices in your strengh, O LORD;

how greatly he exults in your victory!

2 You have given him his heart’s desire;

you have not denied him the request of his lips.

3 For you meet him with blessings of prosperity,

and set a crown of fine gold upon his head.

4 He asked you for life, and you gave it to him:

length of days, for ever and ever.

5 His honor is great, because of your victory;

splendor and majesty have you bestowed upon him.

6 For you will give him everlasting felicity

and will make him glad with the joy of your presence.

Matthew 20:1-16a (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Jesus said,

For the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder going out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. He agreed with them on a wage of a silver coin a day and sent them to work.  About nine o’clock he went and saw some others standing about in the market-place with nothing to do.  ‘You go to the vineyard too,’ he said to them, ‘and I will pay you a fair wage.’  And off they went.  As about mid-day and again at three o’clock in the afternoon he went out and did the same thing.  Then about five o’clock he went out and found some others standing about.  ‘Why are you standing about here all day doing nothing?” he asked them. ‘Because no one has employed us,’ they replied.  ‘You go off into the vineyard as well, then,’ he said.

When evening came the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’  So those who were engaged at five o’clock came up and each man received a silver coin.  But when the first to be employed came they reckoned they would get more; yet they also received a silver coin each.  As they took their money they grumbled at the householder and said, ‘These last fellows have only put in one hour’s work and you’ve treated them exactly the same as us who have gone through all the hard work and heat of the day!’

But he replied to one of them, ‘My friend, I’m not being unjust to you.  Wasn’t our agreement for a silver coin a day?  Take your money and go home.  It is my wish to give the late-comers as much as I give you.  May I not do what I like with what belongs to me?  Must you be jealous because I am generous?’

So, many who are the last now will be first then and the first last.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Standing out from the crowd can be difficult, for conformity is relatively easy.  So Israelites desired to have a king.  But, to paraphrase the extremely old knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in a different context, they chose poorly.  They opted for Abimelech, the amoral son of Gideon.  Abimelech was willing to kill anyone–including brothers–to advance himself.  Not even Jotham’s cautionary tale dissuaded the people.  So they got a king, one who sparked a civil war and reigned for three years, give or take a few months, weeks, and days.  And, in Judges 9, as he lay dying because a woman had cracked his skull by dropping a millstone upon it, Abimelech ordered his arms-bearer to kill him, saying “Draw your dagger and finish me off, that they may not say of me, ‘A woman killed him!'”  (9:54, TANAKH)  Women were not equal to men in that society, so dying because of  a woman was a mark of ignominy, not that Abimelech was a glorious figure.

God was supposed to be the king of Israelites.  Each judge served his or her time in a leadership capacity, with the charge to do the work God intended.  But Israel was supposed to be different, and it wanted to be same.  This was a big mistake, the beginning of its downfall.  Yet the Biblical narrative speaks of how God gave the people what they wanted, and they got Saul, David, Solomon, and their political heirs.  Along with political glory came increased social inequality and economic exploitation.  The people got more than they bargained for, and it included a large dose of unpleasantness.

In contrast, consider the generosity of the vineyard owner, a stand-in for God, in the parable of Jesus.  Everyone received the standard wage for one day’s work.  Everybody–even the people whom the vineyard owner had recruited two hours before the end of work–received one day’s wage.  But the vineyard owner cheated nobody; he paid nobody less than he had promised.  The people who worked a day received what they expected at the beginning of the day, and those who worked for a shorter period of time received more than they expected.  It was only when the men who had worked a full day saw the wages of the others that they expected more, and were therefore disappointed.

Let us never begrudge the generosity of God to anyone.  And may we be careful what we wish for, for we might get it–and more.  The first sentence is a happy spiritual thought, while the second is disturbing.  The first sentence indicates grace and the second speaks of discipline, the intention of which is correction.  So, when we pray, may we seek only that which is consistent with God’s best for us and others.  May we be sufficiently humble to realize that God knows far more than we do, and act accordingly.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/what-you-get-might-not-be-what-you-expect-for-good-or-for-ill/

Posted February 17, 2011 by neatnik2009 in August, Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1

Tagged with , ,

Week of Proper 15: Tuesday, Year 1   11 comments

Deborah, by Gustave Dore

With God All Things Are Possible

AUGUST 22, 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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Judges 5:9-23 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

My heart is with Israel’s leaders,

With the dedicated of the people–

Bless the LORD!

You riders on tawny she-asses,

You who sit on saddle rugs,

And you wayfarers, declare it!

Louder than the “sound of archers,

There among the watering places

Let them chant the gracious acts of the LORD,

His gracious deliverance of Israel.

Then did the people of the LORD

March down to the gates!

Awake, awake, O Deborah!

Awake, awake, strike up the chant!

Arise, O Barak;

Take your captives, O son of Abinoam!

Then was the remnant made victor over the mighty,

The LORD’s people won my victory over the warriors.

From Ephraim came they whose roots are in Amalek;

After you, your kin Benjamin;

From Machir came down leaders,

From Zebulon such as hold the marshal’s staff.

And Isaachar’s chiefs were with Deborah;

As Barak, so was Isaachar–

Rushing after him into the valley.

Among the clans of Reuben

Were great decisions of heart.

Why then did you stay among the sheepfolds

And listen as they pipe for the flocks?

Among the clans of Reuben

Were great searchings of heart!

Gilead tarried beyond the Jordan;

And Dan–why did he linger by the ships?

Asher remained at the seacoast

And tarried at his landings.

Zebulon is a people that mocked at death,

Naphtali–on the open heights.

Then the kings came, they fought:

The kings of Canaan fought

At Taanach, by Megiddo’s waters–

They got no spoil of silver.

The stars fought from heaven,

From their courses they fought against Sisera.

The torrent Kishon swept them away,

The raging torrent, the torrent Kishon.

March on, my soul, with courage!

Then the horses’ hoofs pounded

As headlong galloped the steeds.

Curse Meroz!

said the angel of the LORD.

Bitterly curse its inhabitants,

Because they came not to the aid of the LORD,

To the aid of the LORD among the warriors.

Psalm 85:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people

and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together;

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth,

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him,

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Matthew 19:23-30 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus remarked to his disciples,

Believe me, a rich man will find it very difficult to enter the kingdom of Heaven.  Yes, I repeat, a camel could more easily squeeze through the eye of a needle than a rich man get into the kingdom of God!

The disciples were simply amazed to hear this, and said,

Then who can possibly be saved?

Jesus looked steadily at them and replied,

Humanly speaking it is impossible; but with God anything is possible!

At this Peter exclaimed,

Look, we have left everything and followed you.  What will that be worth to us?

Jesus said,

Believe me when I tell you that in the new world, when the Son of Man shall take his seat on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also be seated on twelve thrones as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Every man who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or land for my sake will get them back many times over, and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last then–and the last first!

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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An understanding of Judges 5 depends on a grasp of the previous chapter in that book.  The prophetess Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was the judge of the Israelites.  She held court under a tree, where people came “to her for decisions” (4:5, TANAKH).  Barak was her army commander.  Deborah informed him that God had commanded her to tell him to take ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulon to confront the military forces of Jabin, a Canaanite king, commanded by Sisera.  God would deliver Sisera’s forces into Barak’s hands.  Barak did as Deborah said, on the condition that she accompany him.  She agreed, saying, “Very well, I will go with you.  However there will be no glory for you in the course you are taking, for then the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

So Barak, Deborah, and the ten thousand men set out to confront the forces that have oppressed the Israelites for two decades.  They did, and Sisera fled to the tent of Jael, wife of Heber.  She concealed him long enough to kill him by driving a pin through his temple.

So, as the narrative says, God had delivered the Israelites through the actions of women.  The message of this story in a deeply patriarchal culture is that there is no human glory here; all glory belongs to God.  The role of the feminine as opposed to that of the masculine in the story is foreign to me, a product of North American feminism.  Within my memory women have always had the right to vote, as well as to seek and hold public office.  And, as far as my memory has been stable (roughly since I was seven or eight years old), I have known of female clergy and not thought twice about them holding this status.  So the sexism of parts of the Bible rankles me.  These books are products of their times and the cultures of the people who wrote and edited them.

But let us not lose sight of the main point:  All glory belongs to God.  With God all things are possible.  In God is liberation, which is always spiritual and sometimes temporal.

The reading from Matthew proceeds from the immediately preceding verses, in which Jesus has conversed with a rich young man too attached to his wealth.  This man’s wealth was a barrier to a proper relationship with God because it (the wealth) blinded him to his dependence of God.  The glory is God’s alone; none of it is human.

Thus we have the famously hyperbolic statement about a camel passing through the eye of a needle.  It is similar to an older Jewish maxim about an elephant attempting the same feat.  The meaning is not complicated, for the narrative makes it plain:  Salvation is possible only with God.  All the glory belongs to God.  This does not mean that our sacrifices are meaningless, for these indicate our faithfulness and sincerity.

The famous line about the first being last and the last being first is consistent with other portions of the canonical gospels.  Consider Luke 16:19-31, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, for example.  The neglected poor man goes to a happy afterlife.  The Kingdom of God operates on different principles than does the dominant human order on the Earth.

With God all things are possible.  Thanks be to God!

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/with-god-all-things-are-possible/

Posted February 13, 2011 by neatnik2009 in August, Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1

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