Devotion for May 22 and 23 in Ordinary Time (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Above:  William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist

Image Source = Library of Congress

Song of Songs and Gospel of John, Part III:  Violating Social Norms



Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs 6:4-7:5 (May 22)

Song of Songs 7:6-8:14 (May 23)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning–May 22)

Psalm 97 (Morning–May 23)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening–May 22)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening–May 23)

John 6:22-40 (May 22)

John 6:41-59 (May 23)


The Song of Songs ends with a note consistent with the rest of the book:  this love violates social norms.  To consumate it is risky, and the lovers must be prepared for a risky parting or a flight together; the Hebrew text is ambiguous regarding whether the lovers will remain in each other’s company.

Speaking of violating social norms, the discourse of eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood violated Jewish social norms.  Such potent language offended sensibilities.  It sounds like cannibalism, does it not?  And more is happening in the narrative.  The Greek text in John 6 echoes the Greek text of the Septuagint in reference to grumbling Israelites in the desert after the Exodus.  So those who complained regarding Jesus received especially negative press.  And Jesus was (and remains) far more than manna.

In my North American context celebrations of the Holy Eucharist are routine, with no legal attention paid to them.  Yet, a few centuries ago, Roman Catholic priests risked their lives to say the Mass in England.  Following Jesus violated social and norms at that time and place.

Sometimes I think that following Jesus has become too respectable, not that I favor religious persecution.  Early Christianity, like the love in the Song of Songs, had an edge an element of risk to it.  And it had value.  As Thomas Paine wrote,

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:  ‘Tis dearness only that gives everything its value.

The American Crisis, Number 1, December 23, 1776

And, when religion becomes respected–the establishment even–it loses its prophetic edge.  I think of the uses of Christianity in  U.S. history to justify slavery then segregation and to criticize prostitutes while affirming the sexism and patriarchy which pushed many women into that situation.  Such hypocrisy, in the case of these women, blamed the victims.  Simply put, Jesus did not die because he was respectable and affirmed social injustice.  No, he died because Roman imperial officials considered him a threat to Pax Romana, a desert called peace, as Tacitus referred to it.

Respectability is overrated.







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