Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 3, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Christ and the Woman Taken In Adultery

Above:  Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino), 1621

Image in the Public Domain

Divine Faithfulness, Judgment, and Mercy

MAY 24, 2018

MAY 25, 2018

MAY 26, 2018

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The Collect:

 Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise

you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another

in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 16:1-14 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 16:44-52 (Friday)

Ezekiel 16:53-63 (Saturday)

Psalm 103:1-13, 22 (All Days)

Romans 3:1-8 (Thursday)

2 Peter 1:1-11 (Friday)

John 7:53-8:11 (Saturday)

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The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD will not always accuse us

nor remain angry forever.

The LORD has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

–Psalm 103:8-10, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Yet we read elsewhere:

Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but infuriated Me with all those things, I will pay you back for your conduct–declares the LORD God.

–Ezekiel 16:43, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That statement is consistent with Ezekiel’s position that God deals with each person according to his or her actions, in other words, that God does not punish anybody for the sin of an ancestor.

The related themes of judgment and mercy reside at the heart of the complex of pericopes for these days.

Ezekiel 16 weaves a metaphorical narrative regarding Jerusalem and its people.  God showered extravagant mercy upon them, but they rebelled against God instead.  They will face the consequences of their actions, but God will renew the covenant and forgive them.  That covenant requires the people to remember the mighty and faithful works of God, to remember human sins, and to respond to God faithfully.  Caring for the less fortunate constitutes part of responding to God faithfully.  And the only acceptable boast is in God’s grace.

Ezekiel 16 meshes well with Romans 3:1-8, a text one ought never to twist into Anti-Semitism.  (I condemn all -isms, phobias, and other attitudes which denigrate any of my fellow human beings.)  God’s judgment is just, St. Paul the Apostle insists, and no amount of human faithfulness can nullify the faithfulness of God.  Furthermore, the Apostle writes, the Jews might have the Law of Moses, but Gentiles can fulfill it also, for they can perceive the commandments of God too.  Thus, according to this line of reasoning, God has placed Jews and Gentiles on a level playing field, and human actions, no matter how pious they are, can function as protective talismans against the consequences of sins.  Faith, the Apostle understood, is inherently active, hence his theology of faith, works, and justification by the former, not the latter.  Thus, if good works flow from faith as a matter of course (unlike as in the Letter of James, due to a different definition of faith there, hence that text’s theology of justification by works), we have no right to boast of our good deeds because they cannot save us from judgment.  They are, as Lutheran confessions of faith state, laudable yet insufficient for salvation.  Only grace can save us.  And grace comes from God.

Moving along, we arrive at 2 Peter 1:1-11.  The text reminds us that we depend on the faithfulness of God to divine promises.  Thus our only boasts should be in God.  And grace is free for us (but not for God; ask Jesus) yet not cheap.  It requires much of those of us who receive it.  Grace mandates ethical, compassionate living.  Perceived doctrinal purity alone is insufficient, for orthodoxy and orthopraxy should be like two sides of the same coin.  (I sound like the Letter of James now.  Actually, St. Paul and the author of the Letter of James arrived at the same conclusion, just with different definitions of faith.  Their two positions differ only on a semantic level.)  I recall the narrative of an African-American slave who, with help, escaped to freedom in Canada in the 1800s.  His master, a Simon Legree-kind of person, was a Baptist deacon.  The former slave wrote that the deacon died and that he (the former slave) did not know if the deacon went to Heaven or to Hell.  The freedman did know, however, that he did not want to go to the same destination as the deacon.

John 7:53-8:11 is a floating pericope of Synoptic origin which landed in the Johannine Gospel.  The pericope fits well between 7:52 and 8:12, but one can skip over it and follow the original Johannine narrative without missing a beat.  The scribes and Pharisees in question have used the woman to set a trap for Jesus.  They do not even care that they have allowed the man to get away.  (One cannot commit adultery alone.)  Jesus, being perceptive, reverses the trap  and reminds them subtly that, if she dies for having committed adultery, the Law of Moses states that they should die also for their related offense.  Thus they are not without sin in this case and have no right to cast the first stone.  Her accusers leave, and Jesus forgives the woman.

The Law, St. Paul the Apostle reminds us, convicts us of our sins by establishing rules and categories.  The Law calls for judgment and provides guidelines (often culturally and historically specific applications of timeless and universal principles) for ethical living.  Obeying the Law can be positive, but it cannot deliver us from the consequences of our sins.  Only God can do that.  Fortunately, God seems to be more merciful than many human beings much of the time.  I recognize that both judgment and mercy exist relative to God.  I also notice that God is more prone to mercy in some biblical texts and more inclined toward judgment in others.  The biblical authors were people, so some of these texts include human projections onto the nature of God.  That is something I take as a given.  Something else I take as a given is that we mere mortals cannot grasp the entirety of the nature of God.  Thus some of what we say and write about God will be wrong, but much will be correct.  Thus theological humility is appropriate.  As for me, I hope that God is at least as merciful as Jesus in John 7:53-8:11 and that the author of Psalm 103:8-10 is closer to the truth than the author of Ezekiel 16:43.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF DANIEL MARCH, SR., U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST AND PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, POET, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILLIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/divine-faithfulness-judgment-and-mercy/

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2 responses to “Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 3, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)

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  1. Pingback: Divine Faithfulness, Judgment, and Mercy | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

  2. Pingback: Guide to Ordinary Time Devotions in May 2018 | ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS

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