Week of Proper 23: Wednesday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  A Torah Scroll

Image Source = Merlin

“Everything else is commentary.”–Hillel

OCTOBER 18, 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.


Romans 2:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

You have no defence, then, whoever you may be, when you sit in judgement–for in judging others you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, are equally guilty.  We all know that God’s judgement on those who commit such crimes is just; and do you imagine–you that pass judgement on the guilty while committing the same crimes yourself–do you imagine that you, any more than they, will escape the judgement of God?  Or do you despise the the wealth of kindness and tolerance and patience, failing to see that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  In the obstinate impenitence of your heart you are laying up for yourself a store of retribution against the day of retribution, when God’s just judgement will be revealed, and he will pay everyone for what he has done.  To those who pursue glory, honour, and immortality by steady persistence in well-doing, he will give eternal life; but the retribution of his wrath awaits those who are governed by selfish ambition, who refuse obedience to truth and take evil for their guide.  There will be affliction and distress for every human being who is a wrongdoer, for the Jew first and the Greek also; but for everyone who does right there will be glory, honour, and peace, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  God has no favourites.

Psalm 62:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  For God alone my soul in silence waits;

from him comes my salvation.

2  He alone is my rock and my salvation,

my stronghold, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.

3  How long will you assail me to crush me,

all of you together,

as if you were a leaning fence, a toppling wall?

4  They seek only to bring me down from my place of honor;

lies are their chief delight.

5  They bless with their lips,

but in their hearts they curse.

6  For God alone my soul in silence waits;

truly, my hope is in him.

7  He alone is my rock and my salvation,

my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

8  In God is my safety and my honor;

God is my strong rock and my refuge.

9  Put your trust in him always, O people,

pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

Luke 11:42-46 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you Pharisees!  You pay tithes of mint and rue and every garden herb, but neglect justice and the love of God.  It is these you should have practised, without overlooking the others.

Alas for you Pharisees!  You love to have the chief seats in synagogues, and to be greeted respectfully in the street.

Alas, alas, you who are like unmarked graves, which people walk over unawares.

At this one of the lawyers said,

Teacher, when you say things like this you are insulting us too.

Jesus rejoined,

Alas for you lawyers also!  You load men with intolerable burdens, and will not lift a finger to lighten the load.


The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Numbers 19:16 reads:

In the open, anyone who touches someone killed with a weapon or someone killed with a weapon or touches a human bone or a grave, is unclean for seven days.

This applied especially to those who did this accidentally.  This detail matters because Jesus refers to it in Luke 11:44, the verse about walking over an unmarked grave.  The Pharisees and their accompanying experts in the Law of Moses were bad influences even if they did not wake up each day plotting how to be bad influences, Jesus said.  They were certainly sincere, but they were sincerely wrong and destructive.

They were so because they became and remained lost in the details.  They had reduced morality to a checklist when it is more a matter of proper attitudes.  The details tend to fall into place when one has proper priorities.  If I say, for example, that I will endeavor, with the help of God, to do unto others as I would want them to do unto me, I do not need to carry a checklist of forbidden and acceptable actions.  “Is it lawful?” is not a question on which I need to spend much time when love of my neighbor defines my actions.

This is a profoundly Jewish attitude.  The great Rabbi Hillel, who died when Jesus was a young man, once fielded a question from a scoffer who demanded a very brief summary of the Torah–one he could listen to in its entirely while standing on one foot.  Hillel’s replied with the Golden Rule, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.  He continued,

Everything else is commentary.  Now, if you’re really interested, to and study the commentary.

It is vital that, when studying the commentary, one ought not forget the main idea, which is the Golden Rule.  One can be a wrongdoer while trying to do that which is moral.  I think of many of my Antebellum Southern forebears in the Christian faith, who used the Bible to defend chattel slavery, a dehumanizing institution.  Then, after the Civil War and through the Civil Rights Movement, many professing Christians used many old pro-slavery arguments to support de jure segregation.  They looked at the details–the commentary–but did not stay focused on the main idea, the Golden Rule.  The commentary contains many useful ideas about how to observe the Golden Rule, but one can pervert and twist the commentary and contradict the Golden Rule easily and without trying to do so.

Sometimes our cultural, subcultural, and religious programming blinds us to our sins.  Other times we blind ourselves to our sins out of selfish interests.  Yet the guiding principle, which is the Golden Rule, remains clear and succinct.  Why are so many of us so confused so much of the time?

Yet, as James 1:27 reads,

A pure and faultless religion in the sight of God the Father is this:  to look after orphans and widows in trouble and to keep oneself untarnished by the world.

This is all the checklist I need.  “Is it lawful?” If it cares effectively for the vulnerable, it is.  If not, it is not.  If it values people more than possessions and other forms of wealth, it is lawful.  If it does not, it is not.  As Saint Laurence of Rome understood well, the poor are treasure of the Church.



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