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 7, 2021


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.


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!


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.


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.



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