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 6, 2023


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.


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.


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.


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.



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