Archive for April 2011

Week of Proper 22: Thursday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Elijah in the Wilderness, by Washington Allston (1779-1843)

Image in the Public Domain

It’s Not Fair!

OCTOBER 10, 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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Malachi 3:13-20a (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Versification in parts of the Hebrew Scriptures varies, according to whether one uses the Protestant system or the Jewish and Roman Catholic system.  So, for many of you, the versification is 3:13-4:2a.  The Book of Malachi has the same number of verses in Jewish and Catholic Bibles as in Protestant ones, but a fourth chapter and a shorter third chapter in Protestant versification.  

You have spoken hard words against Me

–said the LORD.

But you ask, “What have we been saying among ourselves against You?”  You have said, “It is useless to serve God.  What have we gained by keeping His charge and walking in abject awe of the LORD of Hosts?  And so, we account the arrogant happy; they have indeed dared God and escaped.”  In this vein have those who revere the LORD been talking to another.  The LORD has heard and noted it, and a scroll of remembrance has been written at His behest concerning those who revere the LORD and esteem His name.  And on the day that I am preparing,

said the LORD of Hosts,

they shall be My treasured possession; I will be tender toward them as a man is tender toward a son who ministers to him.  And you shall come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him who has served God and him who has not served Him.

For lo!  That day is at hand, burning like an oven.  All the arrogant and all the doers of evil shall be straw, and the day that is coming

–said the LORD of Hosts–

shall burn them to ashes and leave them neither stock nor boughs.  But for you who revere My name a sun of victory shall rise to bring healing.

Psalm 1 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked;

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2  Their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and they meditate on his law day and night.

3  They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;

everything they do shall prosper.

4  It is not so with the wicked;

they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

5  Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,

nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6  For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Luke 11:5-13 (The Jerusalem Bible):

He [Jesus] also said to them,

Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, ‘ My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him;’ and the man answers from inside the house, ‘Do not bother me.  The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it you.’  I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.

So I say to you:  Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will have the door opened to him.  What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread?  Or hand him a snake instead of a fish?  Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Consider this:

Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start?  Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves?  You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill.  You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force.  Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it; when you do pray you don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly, you have prayed for something to indulge your own desires.  (James 4:1-3, The Jerusalem Bible)

and this:

“Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven.  This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets….Alas for you when the world speaks well of you!  This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.”  (Luke 6:22-23, 26, The Jerusalem Bible)

and this:

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer;

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,

Thou wilt find a solace there.

(From verse 3 of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus, printed in The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal, 1938)

My first thought concerns “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  If your “friends” despise and forsake one, they are not really friends.  A now-deceased member of a parish to which I used to belong made this point to me.  How many times had I sung this song growing up and never read the words.  I read the words to hymns now.

The question of why good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people, of why the evil and those indifferent to God prosper while the genuinely loving, kind, and faithful struggle and suffer, is an old one.  It was not an abstract question for Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, or Paul of Tarsus; it was their lived experience.  It has been the lived experience of many faithful Christians who have since joined the Church Triumphant, and it is the lived experience of many Christians today.

The answer, from Malachi to Paul of Tarsus to John to Patmos, is that those who remain faithful to the end will find their deliverance.  As Paul wrote, if we suffer with Christ we will reign with him.

A few days ago a friend invited me to watch Of Gods and Men (2010), a moving movie about French Trappist monks living in Algeria in the middle 1990s.  The small community of monks forms the nucleus of the surrounding village, members of which depend of them for spiritual advice and medical care.  But militant fundamentalist terrorists, who, according to the local Muslims, have not read the Koran, at least closely, threaten the villagers and the monks.  The Trappists have the option to leave for a safe place, but, after struggling and praying, decide to stay.  “The servant is not above his master,” one monk says, quoting Jesus, when he explains his vote to remain and face the danger.  All but two monks in the community die at the end of the movie.  Those who died were martyrs, for their life of faith led to their deaths.  They died because they served God in their neighbors.

The movie, based on a true story, has occupied my thoughts for days.  What would I do in such a circumstance?  Would I act as the monks did, meditating on the sufferings of Christ and following him?  Or would I seek the easy way out?  Would I prefer an easy life (for whatever purpose, if any at all) or accept a difficult death for God?

In the end, Malachi and John of Patmos tell us, those who endure will receive their reward from God, and the unrepentant evildoers will receive their punishment.  This might be of little or no comfort at the present, while the good suffer, but it is the answer we have.  This is a valid question and a great theological problem (in the way that academics use the word “problem”).  Maybe I will get an answer from God in person one day.  Until then, this is the answer I have.

My response, for now, is to try to live faithfully, in love, not animosity and theological know-it-allism mixed with quick judgmentalism.  If I am wrong, may I be wrong in love.  If I am correct, may I be correct in love.  God is my judge; God is your judge; God is everybody’s judge.  And in him there is also mercy.  Much seems unfair; much is unfair.  Humble Trappists monks ought not to die at the hands of terrorists.  Elijah and Jeremiah should not have suffered for obeying God.  But they did.

Such is the world in which we live.  May the love of God, shining in and through us, shed light in it.  As for the rest, that is in God’s hands.  My call from God is to live faithfully, not with all knowledge.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/its-not-fair/

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Week of Proper 22: Wednesday, Year 1   10 comments

Lord's Prayer in Greek

Above:  The Lord’s Prayer in Greek

Image in the Public Domain

The Difficulty of Forgiveness

OCTOBER 9, 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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Jonah 4:1-11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

This displeased Jonah greatly, and he was grieved.  He prayed to the LORD, saying,

O LORD! Isn’t this just what I said when I was still in my own country?  That is why I fled beforehand to Tarshish.  For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.  Please, LORD, take my life, for I would rather die than live.

The LORD replied,

Are you that deeply grieved?

Now Jonah had left the city and found a place east of the city.  He made a booth there and found a place east of the city.  The LORD God provided a ricinus plant, which grew up over Jonah, to provide shade for his head and save him from discomfort.  Jonah was very happy about the plant.  But the next day at dawn God provided a worm, which attacked the plant so that it withered.  And when the sun rose, God provided a sultry east wind; the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, and he became faint.  He begged for death, saying,

I would rather die than live.

Then God said to Jonah,

Are you so deeply grieved about the plant?

He replied,

Yes, so deeply that I want to die.

Then the LORD said:

You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight.  And should I not care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well?

Psalm 86:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Bow down your ear, O LORD, and answer me,

for I am poor and in misery.

2  Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful;

save your servant who puts his trust in you.

3  Be merciful to me, O LORD, for you are my God;

I call upon you all the day long.

4  Gladden the soul of your servant,

for to you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

5  For you, O LORD, are good and forgiving,

and great is your love toward all who call upon you.

6  Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer,

and attend to the voice of my supplications.

7  In the time of my trouble I call upon you,

for you will answer me.

8  Among the gods there is none like you, O LORD,

nor anything like your works.

9  All nations you have made will come and worship you, O LORD,

and glorify your name.

10  For you are great;

you do wondrous things;

for you alone are God.

Luke 11:1-4 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Now once he [Jesus] was in a certain place praying, and when had finished one of his disciples said,

Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.

He said to them,

Say this when you pray:

“Father, may your name be held holy,

your kingdom come;

give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive each one of us who is in debt to us.

And do not put us to the test.”

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

A New Zealand Paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/the-lords-prayer-a-new-zealand-paraphrase/

A Prayer for Grace to Forgive:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/a-prayer-for-grace-to-forgive/

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Jonah could not forgive the people of Nineveh, whom he had just met and did not know, for being of that place.  So he was angry that God had forgiven them.  The Lord’s Prayer is just one passage in which Jesus establishes the link between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others.  Consider this passage (Matthew 7:1-5) also:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give are the judgements you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given.  Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?  How dare you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own?  Hypocrite!  Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

I had planned to write about the link between Jonah’s prayer and Elijah’s similar yet different plea in 1 Kings 19:4.  It is a fascinating aspect of Jonah 4 and one worth pondering.  Yet a more personal and to-the-point aspect of the readings occupies my mind while I type these words.

I was a doctoral student in the Department of History at The University of Georgia from Fall 2005 to Fall 2006.  Those were sixteen mostly difficult months.  They were only sixteen months because, in Fall Semester 2006, I received written notice that the faculty would not permit a third year.  Certain professors asked me take an M.A. instead.  But I already have one, I said.  Get another one, they said.  No, I replied.  Goodbye at the end of this semester, I told them in so many words.

My major professor had blackballed me without justification.  I need to forgive him.  Am I like Jonah in any way?  I am weak; may God forgive me for that.

KRT

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ADDENDUM:

Forgiveness occurred some time ago.  I became conscious of it only after the fact.

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/uga-and-me/

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 17, 2013 COMMON ERA

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[Update: Those negative emotions washed out of my system years ago.  I would not have been human had I not had such emotions, but I would have been foolish not to drop that burden years ago.–2017]

Week of Proper 22: Tuesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, by Johannes Vermeer

Image in the Public Domain

Grace That Violates Conventions

OCTOBER 8, 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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Jonah 3:1-10 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:

Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it what I tell you.

Jonah went at once to Nineveh in accordance with the LORD’s command.

Nineveh was an enormously large city a three days’ walk across.  Jonah started out  and made his way into the city the distance of one day’s walk, and proclaimed:

Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown!

The people of Nineveh believed God.  They proclaimed a fast, and great and small alike put on sackcloth.  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he had the word cried through Nineveh:

By decree of the king, and his nobles:  No man or beast–of flock and heard–shall taste anything!  They shall not graze, and they shall not drink water!  They shall be covered with sackcloth–man and beast–and shall cry mightily to God.  Let everyone turn back from his evil ways and from the injustice of which he is guilty.  Who knows but that God may turn and relent?  He may turn back from His wrath, so that we do not perish.

God saw what they did, how they were turning back from their evil ways.  And God renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon them, and did not carry it out.

Psalm 6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger,

do not punish me in your wrath.

2  Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak;

heal me, LORD, for my bones are racked.

3  My spirit shakes with terror;

how long, O LORD, how long?

4  Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;

save me for your mercy’s sake?

5  For in death no one remembers you;

and who will give you thanks in the grave?

6  I grow weary because of my groaning;

every night I drench my bed

and flood my couch with tears.

7  My eyes are wasted with grief

and worn away because of all my enemies.

8  Depart from me, all evildoers,

for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.

9  The LORD has heard my supplication;

the LORD accepts my prayer.

10  All my enemies shall be confounded and quake with fear;

they shall turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

Luke 10:38-42 (The Jerusalem Bible):

In the course of their journey he came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking.  Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said,

Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself?  Please tell her to help me.

But the Lord answered:

Martha, Martha,

he said,

you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one.  It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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It is imperative to remember that Jesus, in Luke 10:38-42, was on his way to Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week.  So there he is, visiting friends in Bethany.  Martha was the responsible older sister tending to household chores, such as meal production.  This was a function of hospitality, a great social value in that society.  May we be slow to condemn her, then, for she meant well.

It is conceivable that Jesus did not tell everyone he knew all that was on his mind at any given moment.  Martha, in any case, did not know what was about to happen to her friend Jesus.  She probably wanted to offer the best meal possible for him.  And Mary, her younger sister, was not helping.  Instead, Mary was listening to Jesus, much as a male disciple would.  She had chosen the better part, the longer-lasting part.

Mary of Bethany, a woman, received a grace her society usually extended to men, and Jesus approved of her course of action.  God had Jonah pronounce judgment on Nineveh in Jonah 3 then witnessed widespread repentance and relented.  Women act like men and God forgives repentant Gentile hostiles.  There is nothing like grace to overturn the apple cart.

How do we respond or react when we witness and become aware of these unexpected movements of grace?  May we not begrudge grace.  Rather, may we embrace and welcome it.  May we not worry and fret about matters of lesser importance, either.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/grace-that-violates-conventions/

Week of Proper 22: Monday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  Gustave Dore’s engraving of Jonah at the end Chapter 2

(The Dore engravings are in the public domain.)

Who is My Neighbor?  Who is Your Neighbor?

OCTOBER 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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Jonah 1:1-2:1, 11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The Word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:

Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their Wickedness has come before Me.

Jonah, however, started out to flee to Tarshish from the LORD’s service.  He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.  He paid the fare and went aboard to sail with the others to Tarshish, away from the service of the LORD.

But the LORD cast a mighty wind upon the sea, and such a great tempest came upon the sea that the ship was in danger of breaking up.  In their fright, the sailors cried out, each to his own god; and they flung the ship’s cargo overboard to make it lighter for them.  Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the vessel where he lay down and fell asleep.

How can you be sleeping so soundly!  Up, call upon your god!  Perhaps the god will be kind to us and we will not perish.

The men said to one another,

Let us cast lots and find out on whose account this misfortune has come upon us.

They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.  They said to him,

Tell us, you who have brought this misfortune upon us, what is your business? Where have you come from?  What is your country, and of what people are you?

He replied,

I am a Hebrew.  I worship the LORD, the God of Heaven, who made both sea and land.

The men were greatly terrified, and they asked him,

What have you done?

And when the men learned that that he was fleeing from the service of the LORD–for so he told them–they said to him,

What must we do to make the sea calm around us?

For the sea was growing more and more stormy.  He answered,

Heave me overboard, and the sea will calm down for you; for I know that this terrible storm came upon you on my account.

Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to regain the shore, but could not, for the sea was growing more and more stormy about them.  Then they cried out to the LORD:

Oh, please, LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life.  Do not hold us guilty of killing an innocent person!  For You, O LORD, by Your will, have brought this about.

And they heaved Jonah overboard, and the sea stopped raging.

The men feared the LORD greatly; they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and they made vows.

The LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the fish’s belly three days and three nights.

The LORD commanded the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon dry land.

Psalm 130 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;

LORD, hear my voice;

let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2  If you , LORD, were to note what is done amiss,

O Lord, who could stand?

3  For there is forgiveness with you;

therefore you shall be feared.

4  I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him;

in his word is my hope.

5  My soul waits for the LORD,

more than watchmen in the morning,

more than watchmen in the morning.

6  O Israel, wait for the LORD,

for with the LORD there is mercy;

7  With him there is plenteous redemption,

and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

Luke 10:25-37 (The Jerusalem Bible):

There was a lawyer who, to disconcert him [Jesus], stood up and said to him,

Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

He said to him,

What is written in the Law”  What do you read there?

He replied,

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus said,

You have answered right; do this and life is yours.

Above:  Old Jerusalem-Jericho Road

Image Source = he.wiki

But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus,

And who is my neighbor?

Jesus replied,

A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead.  Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side.

Above:  Rembrandt Van Rijn’s Painting of the Good Samaritan

(Also in the Public Domain)

But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him.  He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them.  He then lifted him on to his mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him.  Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper.  “Look after him,” he said, “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.”

Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?

He replied,

The one who took pity on him.

Jesus said to him,

Go, and do the same yourself.

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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I learn from Newtonian physics that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This rule explains much of history, as well.  Thus it came to pass that, in the Persian period of Judean history, a measure of exclusivism and hyper-legalism characterized much of Palestinian Judaism.  This was the opposite of pre-Exilic laxity.

The Book of Jonah, a work of religious fiction, contains much truth.  It is a satire on Persian period exclusivism and hyper-legalism.  On its face it is set in when there were still two Jewish kingdoms and an Assyrian Empire.  God tells Jonah to pronounce judgment on Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire.  As the narrative progresses we learn that the judgment leads to repentance then God relenting, but let us return to Chapter 1.  Jonah does not want to travel to Nineveh and pronounce judgment, so he attempts unsuccessfully to flee from God and the mission God has for him.

I will return to the story of Jonah in Chapters 1 and 2 after I deal with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The Jeusalem-Jericho road in Jesus’ day was a dangerous, meandering road over terrain which dropped greatly in elevation relative to sea level (from 2,300 feet above sea level to 1,300 feet below that standard) in less than twenty miles.  Thus it provided many natural hiding places for robbers to hide.  Sometimes a thief played dead while his fellow brigands waited for a kind-hearted person to stop.  So the safest way to travel this road was as part of a group.  Many commentators have remarked about how foolish the man was to travel this road alone.  Yet, if he was a fool, the same criticism ought to apply to the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan traveler, too.

Yet a Samaritan–a somewhat successful one at that–who knew a certain innkeeper helped the man.  A Samaritan, a member of a despised group, acted out of compassion and placed himself at risk for someone he did not know.  He acted as a neighbor.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his final speech that the priest and Levite were too afraid to help the man.  (A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings of Martin Luther, King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington, 1986, pages 284-285)  He was correct in this analysis.  They were afraid of criminals, justifiably.  (Yet why were they traveling alone?  Am I overanalyzing this parable?)  They also feared the inability to fulfill the Temple functions to which they had devoted their lives.  But what about the man’s life?

Jesus, by making his hero a Samaritan, scandalized many listeners.  Samaritans were heretics and half-breeds.  Many orthodox Palestinian Jews of our Lord’s time despised Samaritans en masse.  So, to grasp the full flavor of the parable, replace the word “Samaritan” with something else.  Many Europeans harbor prejudices against Gypsies, so imagine the Parable of the Good Gypsy.  It is popular in many U.S. political circles to despise immigrants (especially illegal ones) and people of obviously foreign extraction.  So imagine the Parable of the Good Hispanic, the Good Latino, or the Good Illegal Immigrant.  Islamophobia is on the rise in West, so imagine the Parable of the Good Muslim.  During World War II in the United States the Parable of the Good Japanese-American would have angered many people.  My point is this:  Every person, including one who belongs to a despised group, is my neighbor–and yours, too.  Jesus says to act like a good neighbor.

What did Jonah fear?  Perhaps he feared the loss of identity.  Assyria was a great and feared foe of the Kingdom of Israel.  Imagine a twentieth-century retelling of the Book of Jonah.  God tells Jonah, an American, to travel to Moscow, capital city of the Soviet Union, to pronounce judgment and grant the Soviets a chance to avoid divine retribution.  Would not some professing American Christians, including Jonah, have said, “Let them burn”?

Who are we without our enemies?  How do we understand ourselves in the absence of the others, those who are unlike us?  Are we still good guys when the bad guys repent?  This delicate politics of identity plays a part in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, too.  Yet Jesus offers a new identity:  neighbor.  May we embrace it.  And, when Jesus makes us uncomfortable, may we embrace that discomfort, too.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/who-is-my-neighbor-who-is-your-neighbor/

Proper 22, Year A   32 comments

Above:  A Vineyard

Image in the Public Domain

Expectations, Realities, and Consequences

The Sunday Closest to October 5

The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

OCTOBER 8, 2017

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Exodus 20:1-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation to those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses,

You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.

Moses said to the people,

Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.

Psalm 19 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the firmament shows his handiwork.

2  One day tells its tale to another,

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3  Although they have no words or language,

and their voices are not heard,

4  Their sound has gone out into all lands,

and their message to the ends of the world.

5  In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun;

it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;

it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

6  It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens

and runs about to the end of it again;

nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8 The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever,

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened,

and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends?

cleanse me from my secret faults?

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;

let them not get dominion over me;

then shall I be whole and sound,

and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Isaiah 5:1-7 (New Revised Standard Version):

Let me sing for my beloved

my love-song concerning his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard

on a very fertile hill.

He dug it and cleared it of stones,

and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,

and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,

but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem

and people of Judah,

judge between me

and my vineyard.

What more was there to do for my vineyard

that I have not done in it?

When I expected it to yield grapes,

why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you

what I will do to my vineyard.

I will remove its hedge,

and it shall be devoured;

I will break down its wall,

and it shall be trampled down.

I will make it a waste;

it shall not be pruned or hoed,

and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;

that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts

is the house of Israel,

and the people of Judah

are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice,

but saw bloodshed;

righteousness,

but heard a cry!

Psalm 80:7-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

7  Restore us, O God of hosts;

show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

8  You have brought a vine out of Egypt;

you cast out the nations and planted it.

9  You prepared the ground for it;

it took root and filled the land.

10  The mountains were covered by its shadow

and the towering cedar trees by its boughs.

11  You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea

and its branches to the River.

12  Why have you broken down its wall,

so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?

13  The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it,

and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.

14  Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;

behold and tend this vine;

preserve what your right hand has planted.

SECOND READING

Philippians 3:4b-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 21:33-46 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.

Jesus said to them,

Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders have rejected

has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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These readings seem familiar, do they not?  Thus they are the kind of lections we need to read very carefully again, if not for the first time.  I have dealt with the Ten Commandments and the parable already within this blog network, so I refer you, O reader to the links above for certain thoughts while I pursue another thread.

…he expected justice,

but saw bloodshed;

[he expected] righteousness,

but heard a cry!

Isaiah 5:7c-d reads.  Thus, in Isaiah 5:1-7, God vows to make the vineyard a “waste.”  The vineyard in that reading is the people of Israel, and the laying waste refers to the Babylonian Exile.

The vineyard theme recurs in the reading from Matthew.  The writing of the Gospels took place in the shadow of the Jewish War, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E.  So my historical-critical eyes detect animosity toward the mainstream Jewish community from the marginalized Christian Jews in Matthew’s audience.

Nevertheless, I also detect a universal and timeless lesson:  The wages of sin is death.  Yet, as Paul reminds us, keeping the Law scrupulously is insufficient, lest we boast in what we have done.  Rather, the

surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus

makes the difference.  “Knowing” is about far more than acknowledging him intellectually; it is about following him–as individuals and as faith communities.  Jesus is the trump card.

I write these words on Easter Sunday 2011, so this is an especially opportune time to quote the motto of the Moravian Church:

Our lamb has conquered; let us follow him.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/expectations-realities-and-consequences/

Week of Proper 21: Saturday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  An Icon of Baruch

Image in the Public Domain

Good News in the End

OCTOBER 5, 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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Baruch 4:5-13, 27-29 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Take courage, my people,

constant reminder of Israel.

You were sold to the nations,

but not for extermination.

You provoked God;

and so were delivered to your enemies,

since you had angered your creator

by offering sacrifices to demons, not to God.

You had forgotten the eternal God who reared you.

You had also grieved Jerusalem who nursed you,

for when she saw the anger fall on you

from God, she said:

Listen, you neighbours of Zion:

God has sent me great sorrow.

I have seen my sons and daughters taken into captivity,

to which they have been sentenced by the Eternal.

I had reared them joyfully;

in tears, in sorrow, I watched them go away.

Do not, any of you, exult over me,

a widow, deserted by so many;

I suffer loneliness because of the sins of my own children,

who turned away from the Law of God,

who did not want to follow his injunctions,

and would not follow the ways of his precepts,

or tread the paths of discipline as his justice directed.

Take courage, my children, call on God:

he who brought disaster on you will remember you.

As by your will you first strayed away from God,

so now turn back and search for him ten times as hard;

for as he brought down those disasters on you,

so will he rescue you and give you eternal joy.

Psalm 69:34-38 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

34  The afflicted shall see and be glad;

you who seek God, your heart shall live.

35  For the LORD listens to the needy,

and his prisoners he does not despise.

36  Let the heavens and the earth praise him,

the seas and all that moves in them;

37  For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;

they shall live there and have it in possession.

38  The children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love his Name will therein.

Luke 10:17-24 (The Jerusalem Bible):

The seventy-two came back rejoicing.

 Lord,

they said,

even the devils submit to us when we use your name.

He said to them,

I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.  Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.

It was then that, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said,

I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.  Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.  Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private,

Happy are the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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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Reinhold Niebuhr wrote of how he came to learn the meaning of the middle paragraph of this day’s Gospel reading.  In the second decade of the twentieth century, when Niebuhr was fresh out of seminary, he served a congregation in Detroit, Michigan.  Two respectable and “equally respectable” women in his church were dying, but they dealt with death differently.  One lady raged against the dying of the light, to steal a line from Dylan Thomas.  She resented her end-of-life illness and related suffering.

Yet the second woman, who had known great suffering (including her husband’s insanity) and whom circumstances had forced out of Victorian and Edwardian domesticity into the role as breadwinner faced her death with great serenity.  She suffered, too, dying of cancer.  Yet, as Niebuhr wrote,

I stood weekly at her bedside while she told me what passages of Scripture, what Psalms and what prayers to read to her; most of them expressed gratitude for all the mercies of God which she had received in life.  She was partially grateful to her two daughters and their love; and she faced death with the utmost peace of soul.

I relearned the essentials of the Christan faith at the bedside of that nice old soul.  I appreciated that the ultimate problem of human existence is the peril of sin and death in the way that these two perils are so curiously compounded; for we fall into sin by trying to evade or to conquer death or our own insignificance, of which death is the ultimate symbol.  The Christian faith holds out the hope that our fragmentary lives will be completed in a total and larger plan than any which we can control or comprehend, and that a part of the completion is the forgiveness of sins, that is, the forgiveness of the evils into which we fall by our frantic efforts to complete our own lives or to endow them with significance.

Significance, of course, comes from God alone.

This is the same God in the Book of Baruch.  The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following will move along to Jonah beginning with Monday in the week of Proper 22, so I feel obligated to quote the glorious fifth chapter, as The Jerusalem Bible renders it:

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress,

put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever,

wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you,

put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head:

since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven,

since the name God gives you for ever will be,

“Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.”

Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights

and turn your eyes to the east:

see your sons reassembled from west and east

at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them.

Though they left you on foot,

with enemies for an escort,

now God brings them back to you

like royal princes carried back in glory.

For God has decreed the flattening

of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills,

the filling of the valleys to make the ground level

so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.

And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade

for Israel at the command of God;

for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory

with his mercy and integrity.

The oppression of Antiochus IV Epiphanes did end.  Centuries before that, exiles did return from Babylonia.  It does get better in time.  May we persevere in faith through good times and bad times.  Along the way we can learn profound spiritual truths from people who might seem like unlikely teachers.  May we be open to them and to God.

KRT

The Niebuhr source is his Intellectual Autobiography (pages 4-7 of it, to be precise) contained in Reinhold Niebuhr:  His Religious, Social, and Political Thought, edited by Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall (New York:  Macmillan, 1961).

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/good-news-in-the-end/

Week of Proper 21: Friday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Map of the Seleucid Empire in 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

Obedience and Persistence

OCTOBER 4, 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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Baruch 1:15-21 (The Jerusalem Bible):

You are to say:

Integrity belongs to the Lord our God; to us the look of shame we wear today, to us, the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem, to our kings and princes, our priests, our prophets, as to our ancestors, because we have sinned in the sight of the Lord our God telling us to follow the commandments which the Lord had ordained for us.  From the day when the Lord brought our ancestor out of the land of Egypt until today we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, we have been disloyal, refusing to listen to his voice.  And so the disasters, and the curse which the Lord pronounced through his servant Moses the day he brought our fathers out of Egypt to give us a land where milk and honey flow, have seized on us, disasters we experience today.  Despite all the words of those prophets whom he sent us, we have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God, but each following the dictates of his evil heart, we have taken to serving alien gods, and doing what is displeasing to the Lord our God.

Psalm 79 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  O God, the heathen here come into your inheritance;

they have profaned your holy temple;

they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.

2  They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the air,

and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.

3  They have shed their blood like water on every side of Jerusalem,

and there was no one to bury them.

4  We have become a reproach to our neighbors,

an object of scorn and derision to those around us.

5  How long will you be angry, O LORD?

will your fury blaze like fire for ever?

6  Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you

and upon kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.

7  For they have devoured Jacob

and made his dwelling a ruin.

8  Remember not our past sins;

let your compassion be swift to meet us;

for we have been brought very low.

9  Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name;

deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

10  Why should the heathen say, “Where is your God?”

Let it be known among the heathen and in our sight

that you avenge the shedding of your servants’ blood.

11  Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,

and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.

12  May the revilings with which they reviled you, O Lord,

return seven-fold into their bosoms.

13  For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture;

we will give you thanks for ever

and show forth your praise from age to age.

Luke 10:13-16 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you, Chorazin!  Alas for you, Bethsaida!  For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.  And still, it will not go as hard with Tyre and Sidon at the Judgement as with you.  And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted high in heaven?  You shall be thrown down to hell.

Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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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Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, became the ruler of Palestine in 332 (having been king in Macedonia since 336)  B.C.E.  After he died nine years later, in 323, his vast empire broke up into competing factions, including the Ptolemaic Empire, headquartered in Egypt, and the Seleucid Empire, based in Syria.  The Ptolemys governed Palestine from 301 to 198 B.C.E. then the Seleucids took control of the region.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163), a monarch hostile to Judaism, profaned the Second Temple and outlawed basic Jewish practices in 167 B.C.E.  He banned circumcision, outlawed keeping the Sabbath, burned Torah scrolls, devoted the Temple to the Olympian gods, and forced Jews to eat pork and participate in Hellenistic religious festivals.

The writing of the Book of Baruch occurred in this context.  The author drew on the paradigm of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E., four centuries before his time.  The book opens with a prayer of confession (part of which is the first reading for this day), moves along to a plea for mercy and deliverance, recalls divine compassion and promises, then praises divine wisdom that people cannot possibly understand.  It concludes with an affirmation of hope.  Thus the purpose of the Book of Baruch is to encourage faithful Palestinian Jews suffering under the Seleucid oppression.  God has not abandoned his people, the book says; God will deliver them.  And nobody understands the mind of God fully, so nobody ought to try.  The task of the faithful is to obey the Torah of God and persist in obedience.

The reading from Luke, with similar lessons in Matthew and Mark, fits well into this theme.  Jesus rebukes First Century C.E. unrepentant Jewish communities, saying that Gentile communities would have repented already.  This message is consistent with comments such as those to the effect that some prostitutes will enter Heaven before certain professional religious people.  In other words, socially-defined religious orthodoxy will not save one from the consequences of one’s own sin.

So, once again, we have the intersection of judgment and mercy.  And, as Peter says to Gentile household in Acts 10:34b-35 (New Revised Standard Version):

I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

This message is positive, especially if one is a person who fears God and “does what is acceptable to him.”  But what if you one just thinks that one does, but is actually mistaken?  Into which category do you fit?  Into which category do I fit?  I do not know, and you might not, either.  Fortunately, A Brief Statement of Belief (Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1962) offers a summary of our hope:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

I am not a Universalist; there is a reality called Hell, just as there is a reality called Heaven.  Just as there is mercy, there is also judgment.  There is always something of the ways of God that remain hidden from us.  Among these mysteries is the extent of mercy, something I do not question.  Rather, I rejoice in it.  This is the mercy by which God delivers me from myself and you from yourself.  This is the mercy by which God cancels out measures of judgment.  But there is judgment, too.  Let us never forget that, but without neglecting the reality of mercy.  May we have balanced perspectives.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/obedience-and-persistence/