Week of Proper 21: Wednesday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  The Far West of the Persian Empire in 525 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

Commitments

OCTOBER 4, 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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Nehemiah 2:1-9 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, wine was set before him; I took the wine and gave it to the king–I had never been out of sorts in his presence.  The king said to me,

How is it that you look bad, though you are not ill?  It must be bad thoughts.

I was very frightened, but I answered the king,

May the king live forever!  How should I not look bad when the city of the graveyard of my ancestors lies in ruins, and its gates have been consumed by fire?

The king said to me,

What is your request?

With a prayer to the God of Heaven, I answered the king,

If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah, the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.

With the consort seated at his side, the king said to me,

How long will you be gone and when will you return?

So it was agreeable to the king to send me, and I gave him a date.  Then I said to the king,

If it please the king, let me have letters to the governors of the province Beyond the River, directing them to grant me passage until I reach Judah; likewise, a letter to Asaph, keeper of the King’s Park, directing him to give me timber for roofing the gatehouses of the temple fortress and the city walls and for the house I shall occupy.

The king gave me these, thanks to my God’s benevolent care for me.  When I came to the governors of the province of Beyond the River I gave them the king’s letters.  The king also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

Psalm 137 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,

when we remembered you, O Zion.

2  As for our harps, we hung them up

on the trees in the midst of that land.

3  For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,

and our oppressors called for mirth:

“Sing for us the songs of Zion.”

4  How shall we sing the LORD’s song

upon alien soil?

5  If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand forget its skill.

6  Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

7  Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD,

against the people of Edom,

who said, “Down with it!  even to the ground!”

8  O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who pays you back

for that which you have done to us!

9  Happy shall be he who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock!

Luke 9:57-62 (The Jerusalem Bible):

As they traveled along they met a man who said to him,

I will follow you wherever you go.

Jesus answered,

Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

Another to whom he said,

Follow me,

replied,

Let me go and bury my father first.

But he answered,

Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of kingdom of God.

Another said,

I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home.

Jesus said to him,

Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

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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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Let us ground ourselves in time and space before we proceed.  Cyrus II “the Great” of the Persians and the Medes conquered the Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  He permitted the first group of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland one year later, 538 B.C.E.  He died in 530, and Cambyses (reigned 530-522) succeeded him.  After Cambyses came Darius I (reigned 522-486), who permitted the construction of the Second Temple from 520 to 515.  Xerxes I (reigned 486-465) occupied the throne next, after which came Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424), Nehemiah’s king.  (Thanks to The Jewish Study Bible for the dates.)

Nobody had restored the walls of Jerusalem nearly a century after the first group of exiles had returned.  So, circa 445 B.C.E, Nehemiah, the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes I, sought and received permission to oversee the restoration of those walls.  The diminished state of Jerusalem troubled Nehemiah so much that he had to do something about it.  He committed himself to that great task.

Although the Biblical authors are generally favorably disposed toward the Persian kings who helped the Jews, many of the writings from and about that time have an air of melancholy about them.  The reality of 538 B.C.E. and the following years exists in the shadow of pre-destruction Jerusalem.  The Second Temple was far less grand than the complex from Solomon’s time, the city walls were in a dilapidated state for almost century, and home was part of a far-flung yet generally benevolent empire they did not govern.  Furthermore, Judea was one of the poorer regions of the Persian Empire, a fact of which the residents were quite aware.  There were many reasons to feel discouraged.

Consider Psalm 137 also.  It speaks of a time prior to the Persian conquest of Babylon.  The frustrations of the exiled, conquered, and/or colonized are understandable in any time or place.  These are on full display in Psalm 137, which I have typed in its entirely.  The lectionary said to stop at verse 6, but the full impact of the text requires that one read all of it.  Verses 7-9 speak of violence and the desire for revenge, even upon innocent children unfortunate enough to have been born Babylonian.  The Book of Psalms is honest about raw human emotions, as we should be without condoning certain ones.  But let us not skip over the verses we find uncomfortable.

The text in Luke has a parallel reading in Matthew.  Follow the URL I have provided to read my thoughts about the Matthew version.  It is sufficed to say here that, as I interpreted the Matthew version in the light of the verses before it, I will do the same for this day’s reading from Luke.  Jesus has just set his course for Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week.  So he does not tolerate excuses from anyone.  He has committed himself, so he expects others to dedicate themselves.

It is also worth noticing that, in the next section, Jesus sends the outer circle of disciples out on a preaching mission.  Thus 9:60 makes sense.  It reads, “…your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

There is much work to do for God.  May we avoid distractions and excuses; may we begin or continue to fulfill our vocations.  Along the way we may need some help from others of a different religious or ethnic or social group or economic class.  May they do their parts too.  And may we leave behind all baggage that would weigh us down.  May the love of God fill us and drive away all that is not love.

That is a commitment worth keeping.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/commitments/

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