Week of Proper 10: Friday, Year 2   4 comments

Above:  King Hezekiah with the Prophet Isaiah

The Mercy of Flexibility

JULY 20, 2018

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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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Isaiah 38:1-6, 21 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In those days Hezekiah fell dangerously ill.  The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him,

Thus said the LORD:  Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not get well.

Thereupon Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD.

Please, O LORD, he said, remember how I have walked before You sincerely and wholeheartedly, and have done what is pleasing to You.

And Hezekiah wept profusely.

Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah:

Go and tell Hezekiah:  Thus said the LORD, the God of your father David:  I have heard your prayer, and I have seen your tears.  I hereby add fifteen years to your life.  I will also rescue  you and this city from the hands of the king of Assyria.  I will protect this city.

…Isaiah said,

Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the rash, and he will recover….

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.

Matthew 12:1-8 (An American Translation):

At that same time Jesus walked through the wheat fields, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of wheat and eat them.  But the Pharisees saw it and said to him,

Look!  Your disciples are doing something which it is against the Law to do on the Sabbath!

But he said to them,

Did you ever read what David did, when he and his companions were hungry?  How is it that he went into the House of God and that they ate the Presentation Loaves which it is against the Law for him and his companions to eat, or for anyone except the priests?  Or did you ever read in the Law how the priests in the Temple are not guilty when they break the Sabbath?  But I tell you, there is something greater than  the Temple here!  But if you knew what the saying means, ‘It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for,’ you would not have condemned  men who are not guilty.  For the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath.

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The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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A Related Post:

Week of Proper 10:  Friday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/week-of-proper-10-friday-year-1/

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King Hezekiah of Judah received much positive press in the Bible.  He “did what was pleasing to the LORD,” “abolished the shrines and smashed the pillars and cut down the sacred post.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)  And, in the words of 2 Kings 18:5-6 (also from TANAKH), Hezekiah

trusted only in the LORD the God of Israel; there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those before him.  He clung to the LORD; he did not turn away from hallowing Him, but kept the commandments that the LORD had given to Moses.

So “the LORD was always with him.”  (2 Kings 18:7a, TANAKH)

This day’s reading from Isaiah 38 occurs in the context of 2 Kings 20, to which it bears many similarities.  In Isaiah 38 we read of God giving the king advance notice of his impending death, Hezekiah weeping “profusely,” and God extending the king’s life by fifteen years.  Back in 2 Kings 20, God then tells Hezekiah of the impending Babylonian Exile, to which Hezekiah says to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.”  At least safety was assured for his time, he thought.  (2 Kings 20:19)

What are we supposed to make of this story?  I have checked some sources, and what follows is some of what I found.  The note in The Jewish Study Bible reads,

Contrition accompanied by prayer can effect a change in God’s decision.

The Orthodox Study Bible quotes Saint John Cassian (circa 360-circa 435):

What can be clearer than this proof that out of consideration for mercy and goodness the Lord would rather break His word, and instead of the prearranged limit of death, extend the life of him who prayed for fifteen years, rather than be found inexorable because of His unchangeable decree?

The NIV Study Bible note affirms both the sovereignty of God and the appropriateness of prayer.  The New Interpreter’s Bible stresses the connection between the well-being of Hezekiah and that of his realm, for God delivered both of them from the Assyrian king, a blasphemer.

Thus Hezekiah’s personal recovery is the working out of God’s will in microcosm.  (Volume III, page 271)

Now I bring the reading from Matthew 12 into consideration.  (If you, O reader, follow the the link to the Year 1 counterpart to this post, you will find more details about that lesson.)  Jesus says in Matthew 12:1-8 that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.  In so doing he quotes Hosea 6:6.  Keeping the Sabbath, or Lord says, ought not to entail involuntary hunger.  Spiritual “purity” is not holiness when it imposes needless physical hardships on others.

Putting these two readings together and pondering their meanings leads to a beautiful lesson.  Mercy is a greater virtue than rigid consistency.  God modeled this lesson with regard to Hezekiah, and Jesus demonstrated it relative to Sabbath laws and the need to eat properly each day.  People and their needs matter far more than abstract rules.

Here is a lesson which is applicable in many circumstances in daily life.  I strive to live according to it in my work as a teacher.  (I hope that I succeed more often than I fail.)  Being a decent human being (in my case, as a Christian, for Jesus and the glory of God) is preferable to acting like an inflexible person who quotes syllabus provisions in a lawyer-like fashion while students suffer unnecessarily.  Grace is a wondrous gift; may we extend it to others without pretending that no rules mean anything and that there are no consequences for misdeeds.  This is the balance I must strike:  respecting the efforts of pupils who obey the rules while not treating every error as if it is a proper cause of catastrophe.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/the-mercy-of-flexibility/

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