Archive for the ‘August 12’ Category

Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 14, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Sacrifice of Isaac--Caravaggio

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

Active Faith

AUGUST 12 and 13, 2019


The Collect:

Almighty God, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your church.

Open our hearts to the riches of your grace,

that we may be ready to receive you wherever you appear,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44


The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 33:1-17 (Monday)

2 Chronicles 34:22-33 (Tuesday)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Both Days)

Hebrews 11:1-7 (Monday)

Hebrews 11:17-28 (Tuesday)


How blessed the nation that learns to acclaim you!

They will live, Yahweh, in the light of your presence.

–Psalm 89:15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


That is the theology in the accounts of Kings Manasseh and Josiah of Judah.  We read of Manasseh (reigned 698/687-642 B.C.E.) in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 and 2 Kings 21:1-18.  The story in 2 Kings is more unflattering than the version in 2 Chronicles, for the latter mentions his repentance.  Manasseh’s grandson, Josiah (reigned 640-609 B.C.E.) is on the scene in 2 Chronicles 34-35 and 2 Kings 22:1-23:30.  His fidelity to the Law of Moses delays the destruction of Judah, we read.

Hebrews 11 focuses on faith.  Verse 1 defines faith as

the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

In context this definition of faith is consistent with the understanding of St. Paul the Apostle, for whom faith was inherently active, hence the means of one’s justification with God.  In the Letter of James, however, faith is intellectual, so justification comes via works.  This is not a contradiction, just defining “faith” differently.  Active faith is the virtue extolled consistently.

I argue with Hebrews 11:17-20.  The near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) was a form of child abuse.  There was no way it did not damage the father-son relationship.  Earlier in Genesis Abraham had interceded on behalf of strangers in Sodom (Chapter 18).  Yes, he had relatives there (see Genesis 13, 14, and 19), but he argued on behalf of strangers.  In Chapter 22 he did not do that for his son, Isaac.  God tested Abraham, who failed the test; he should have argued.

Did I understand you correctly?

would have been a good start.

May we have the active faith to follow God.  May we know when to question, when to argue, and when to act.  May we understand the difference between an internal monologue and a dialogue with God.  Out of faith may we act constructively and thereby leave the world better than we found it.











Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 14, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain


AUGUST 10, 11, and 12, 2017


The Collect:

O God our defender, storms rage around and within us and cause us to be afraid.

Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons daughters from fear,

and preserve us in the faith of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44


The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 18:1-16 (Thursday)

1 Kings 18:17-19, 30-40 (Friday)

1 Kings 18:41-46 (Saturday)

Psalm 85:8-13 (All Days)

Acts 17:10-15 (Thursday)

Acts 18:24-28 (Friday)

Matthew 16:1-4 (Saturday)


Favor your land, Yahweh,

restore the fortunes of Jacob!

Forgive the guilt of your people,

remit all their sin!

Withdraw all your fury,

abate your blazing wrath!

–Psalm 85:2-4, Mitchell Dahood, The Anchor Bible, Volume 17:  Psalms II:  51-100 (1968)


The theology of the narrative in 1 Kings 18 holds that God is in control of nature and that the long drought is a form of divine punishment for idolatry.  At the beginning of the chapter the drought has entered its third year.  At the end of the chapter, after the slaughter of the priests of Baal, the drought is over.  1 Kings 18 contains at least three signs–drought, the consumption of Elijah’s offering, and the end of the drought.

The greatest sign in all of the Bible was the incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  Our Lord and Savior performed many miracles, some even over long distances.  Were those signs insufficient?  Some Pharisees and Sadducees, whose sects were traditional adversaries, acted as if these impressive signs were irrelevant and insufficient.  Maybe they chose not to believe because of the high costs to them in the realms of economics, politics, psychology, and social status.  Whatever their reasons for rejecting Jesus, their question was insincere.  Not even the sign of Jonah–a reference to the death and Resurrection of Jesus–convinced them, for they had made up their minds.  They did not want facts to confuse them.  St. Paul the Apostle got into legal trouble with such people within living memory of the Resurrection.

God, it seems, send signs at the times and in the ways of God’s own choosing.  Often these times and methods are far from those we expect, so that reality upsets us.  Furthermore, the content of these signs upsets our apple carts, threatens our identities, and calls into question some of our most beloved establishments much of the time.  Consider Jesus, O reader.  His mere newborn existence proved sufficient to unnerve a tyrant, Herod the Great.  Later, when Jesus spoke and acted, he called into question the Temple system, which exploited the masses economically and aided and abetted the Roman imperial occupation.  In so doing Our Lord and Savior crossed paths with Roman authorities and questioned a system which gave some people economic benefits, psychological reinforcement, and social status, none of which they wanted to surrender.

The signs of Jesus continue to challenge us in concrete examples from daily life.  Have we excluded or marginalized anyone wrongly?  The words and deeds of Jesus confront us with our sin.  Have we exploited others economically or made excuses for an economically exploitative or related practices?  The words and deeds of Jesus confront us with our sin.  Have we favored the security of empire and/or military might over the freedom which comes from trusting God?  The words and deeds of Jesus confront us with our sin.  They also call us to repent–to change our mind, to turn around–and offer forgiveness when we do, by grace.









Devotion for August 12 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Peter’s Vision of the Sheet with Animals

Image in the Public Domain

1 Samuel and 1 Corinthians, Part V:  Food and Fellowship



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:

1 Samuel 28:3-25

Psalm 5 (Morning)

Psalms 8 and 29 (Evening)

1 Corinthians 6:1-20


When [Jesus] had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable.  He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand?  Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer.”  (Thus he declared all foods clean.)  And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles.  For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:  fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

–Mark 7:17-23, New Revised Standard Version

The  politics of food in the Bible interests me.  Some foods are unclean in the Law of Moses yet God declares them clean in the Acts of the Apostles.  The Apostle Paul dealt with the issue of food in passing in 1 Corinthians 6 yet at length in the context of food offered to imaginary deities elsewhere.  Paul could not have been aware of Mark 7:19b, in which Jesus declared all foods clean, for he died before the Gospel of Mark came into existence.  But, if he was aware of the oral tradition or a written version of that teaching, he did not indicate that he was.  There is also the matter of whom one eats and refuses to eat (as in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and elsewhere.)  But the witch at Endor offered even the unsympathetic King Saul food.

There is a Russian proverb which states that one’s company, not the menu, makes for a good meal.  By that definition Jesus considered prostitutes, Roman collaborators, and other notorious sinners to be good company.  At least they knew of their need for forgiveness.  And he did not condemn them.

“For me everything is permissible,” maybe, but not everything does good.  True, for me everything is permissible, but I am determined not to be dominated by anything.

–1 Corinthians 6:12, The New Jerusalem Bible

That last clause is crucial.  Any behavior or thing can become addictive under certain circumstances.  Modern scientific knowledge regarding the pleasure center of the human brain explains the difference between the brain of an addict and the brain of someone not addicted.  So we know that addiction is a matter of brain chemistry (affected by life circumstances, quite often), not one’s weak will.  Yet the principle that we ought to master our appetites rather than be mastered by them is a timeless one.  And we should also master our prejudices regarding who constitutes good company for table fellowship.







Proper 14, Year B   20 comments

Above:  Statue of Reconciliation, St. Michael’s Cathedral, Coventry, England, United Kingdom

Image Source = Rebecca Kennison

Love, Not Theocracy

The Sunday Closest to August 10

The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

AUGUST 12, 2018



2 Samuel 18:9-15, 24-19:3 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And Absalom chanced to meet the servants of David.  Absalom was riding his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.  And a certain man saw it, and told Joab,

Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.

Joab said to the man who told him,

What, you saw him!  Why then did you not strike him there to the ground?  I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.

But the man said to Joab,

Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not put forth my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, “For my sake protect the young man Absalom.”  On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.

Joab said,

I will not waste time like this with you.

And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak.  And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.

(Joab orders Ahimaaz not to tell David what has happened.  Then Joab sends a Cushite to update David and decides after all to let Ahimaaz run after the Cushite.  Ahimaaz then passes the Cushite.)

Now David was sitting between the two gates; and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked, he saw a man running alone.  And the watchman called out and told the king.  And the king said,

If he is alone, there are tidings in his mouth.

And he came apace, and drew near.  And the watchman saw another man running; and the watchman called to the gate and said,

See, another man running alone!

The king said,

He also brings tidings.

And the watchman said,

I think the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.

And the king said,

He is a good man, and comes with good tidings.

Then Ahimaaz cried out out to the king,

All is well.

And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth, and said,

Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.

And the king said,

Is it well with the young man Absalom?

Ahimaaz answered,

When Joab sent your servant I saw a great tumult, but I do not know what it was.

And the king said,

Turn aside, and stand here.

So he turned aside, and stood still.

And behold, the Cushite came; and the Cushite said,

Good tidings for my lord the king!  For the LORD has delivered you this day from the power of all who rose up against you.

The king said to the Cushite,

Is it well with the young man Absalom?

And the Cushite answered,

May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up against you for evil, be like that young man.

And the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said,

O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!  Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

It was told Joab,

Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.

So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people; for the people heard that day,

The king is grieving for his son.

And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle.

Psalm 130 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;

LORD, hear my voice;

let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2  If you , LORD, were to note what is done amiss,

O Lord, who could stand?

3  For there is forgiveness with you;

therefore you shall be feared.

4  I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him;

in his word is my hope.

5  My soul waits for the LORD,

more than watchmen in the morning,

more than watchmen in the morning.

6  O Israel, wait for the LORD,

for with the LORD there is mercy;

7  With him there is plenteous redemption,

and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.


1 Kings 19:4-8 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

[Elijah] himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness.  He came to a broom bush and sat down under it, and prayed that he might die.


he cried.

Now, O LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.

He lay down and fell asleep under a broom bush.  Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him,

Arise and eat.

He looked about; and there, beside his head, was a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water!  He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the LORD came a second time and touched him and said,

Arise and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.

He arose and ate and drank; and with the strength from that meal he walked forty days and forty nights as far as the mountain of God at Horeb.

Psalm 34:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the LORD;

let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD;

let us exult his Name together.

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant,

and let not your faces be ashamed.

6 I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him,

and he will deliver them.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him.


Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (New Revised Standard Version):

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


John 6:35, 41-51 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said to the people,

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said,

I am the bread that came down from heaven.

They were saying,

“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?

Jesus answered them,

Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Proper 14, Year A:

2 Samuel 18 and 19:

John 6:


The reading from Ephesians deserves much more attention from many people.

 Two strains coexist in the politics of my nations, the United States of America.  One is talk of religion, often the sort bearing the stamp of theocracy or longings thereof.  This comes mixed frequently with Nativism, reactionary tendencies, Social Darwinism, and, quite frankly, homophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry.  The other strain is anger oblivious to objective definitions.  So “Socialism” has taken on meanings far beyond anything the Socialist Party recognizes, and there are people who condemn the very government programs upon which they depend and who do know that these programs are creatures of the government.  Hence some want to keep the federal government out of their Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid.  These individuals are mad, not rational.  These two strains go hand-in-hand.

Yet we read in Ephesians that we ought not entertain resentment or anger.  As 5:1-2 (J. B. Phillips, 1972) reads:

So you then should try to become like God, for you are his children and he loves you.  Live your lives in love–the same sort of love which Christ gave us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us….

Theocracy relies on on coercion, not voluntary action.  Thus theocracy is inconsistent with Christian love.  May we love one another, encouraging–not coercing–one another toward deeper righteousness.

Here ends the lesson.


Week of Proper 14: Monday, Year 1   15 comments

Above:  Jessica Lange as Angelique in All That Jazz (1979)

(The image is a screen capture from a DVD of the movie.)

God, Who Is Attracted To Us

AUGUST 12, 2019


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.


Deuteronomy 10:12-21 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

Moses said,

And now, Israel, what is YHWH, your God, asking from you except to fear YHWH, your God, to go in all His ways, and to love Him with all your heart and soul, to observe YHWH’s commandments and His laws that I command you today to be good for you.  Here, YHWH, your god, has the skies–and the skies of the skies!–the earth and everything that’s in it.  Only, YHWH was attracted to your fathers, to love them, and He chose their seed after them:  you, out of all the peoples, as it is this day.  So you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and you shall not harden your necks anymore.  Because YHWH, your God:  He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty; and the awesome God, who won’t be partial and won’t take a bribe, doing judgment for an orphan and a widow and loving an alien, to give him bread and a garment.  So you shall love the alien, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  You shall fear YHWH, your God, you shall serve Him, and you shall cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.  He is your splendor, and He is your God, who did these great and awesome things for you that your eyes have seen.  Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now YWHH your God, has made you  like the stars of the skies for multitude.

Psalm 148 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD from the heavens;

praise him in the heights.

2 Praise him, all you angels of his;

praise him, all his host.

3 Praise him, sun and moon;

praise him, all you shining stars.

4 Praise him, heaven of heavens,

and you waters above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the Name of the LORD;

for he commanded, and they were created.

6 He made them stand fast for ever and ever;

he gave them a law which shall not pass away.

7 Praise the LORD from the earth,

you sea-monsters and all deeps;

8 Fire and hail, snow and fog,

tempestuous wind, doing his will;

9 Mountains and all hills,

fruit trees and cedars;

10 Wild beasts and all cattle,

creeping things and winged birds;

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all rulers of the world;

12 Young man and maidens,

old and young together.

13 Let them praise the Name of the LORD,

for his Name only is exalted,

his splendor is over earth and heaven.

14 He has raised up strength for his people

and praise for all his loyal servants,

the children of Israel, a people who are near him.


Matthew 17:22-27 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

As they went together in Galilee, Jesus told them,

The Son of Man is going to be handed over to the power of men, and they will kill him.  And on the third day he will be raised to life again.

This greatly distressed the disciples.

Then when they arrived at Capernaum the Temple tax-collectors came up and said to Peter,

Your master doesn’t pay Temple-tax, we presume?

Peter replied,

Oh, yes, he does!

Later when he went into the house, Jesus anticipated what he was going to say.

What do you think, Simon?

he said.

Whom do the kings of this world get their tolls and taxes from–their own family or from others?

Peter replied,

From others.

Jesus told him,

Then the family is exempt,.  Yet we don’t want to give offence to these people, so go down to the lake and throw in your hook.  Take the first fish that bites, open his mouth and you’ll find a silver coin.  Take that and give it to them, for both of us.


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The word “awesome” has lost much of its power in my North American culture. It is, in its older English form, related to “awful,” which used to mean “full of awe.”   Hence “awesome” means “inspiring awe.”  So the word is far more profound than one might think after hearing “Totally awesome, dude!” too many times.

The speaker in Deuteronomy is Moses, at least in literature.  He reminds the Israelites, who are about to enter the promised land, of the greatness, mercy, and power of God, who has made them what they are.  And God asks that they obey him, for his commands are for their own good.  This is God, who, as Professor Richard Elliott translates a verse, “was attracted to your fathers, to love them…and their seed after them.”

Much of Christian tradition has not dealt well with even the hint of human sexuality.  So the idea of God being attracted to people might seem jarring.  But I find it rather comforting.  When I read that verse while typing it, my mind turned to All That Jazz (1979) and Father Andrew Greeley’s analysis of it in his 1990 book, The Catholic Myth:  The Behavior and Beliefs of American Catholics (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons).  The late Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, a Broadway show producer.  Joe is also a shallow man drinks too much, takes too many pills, and has troubled relationships with women and his daughter.  Through it all, Angelique, whose true identity is vague, speaks to him–sometimes in comfort, other times in reproof, and still other times mockingly.  But she is there at the end, as Joe, now dead, travels down the tunnel, toward the light, where she is waiting.  Is she God? She might be.  She is certainly attracted to Joe Gideon.

Father Greeley has a wonderful footnote on page 252:

I take consolation in the hope that God, when finally encountered, will be even more spectacular than Jessica Lange.   She’d better be.

As God is attracted to us, we ought to reciprocate.  Saints, especially female ones whose writings have come down to us, have understood this principle well.  This becomes easier for men when using a female image of God.  And why not?  God exists beyond human concepts of sex and gender; let us not become distracted by metaphors.  As for me, I will be content if God is only as spectacular as Jessica Lange.

The laws of God speak of our obligations to each other.  Honoring these is part of demonstrating one’s love for God.  The text from Deuteronomy singles out the treatment of aliens and reminds the Israelites that they used to be aliens in Egypt.  So they ought to treat the aliens in their midst with great respect.  This is a timeless principle, one that all people would do well to honor with words and deeds.  I wonder how better the debates over immigration policies in more than one nation (such as my own, the United States of America) would be if this principle set the tone.  God is attracted to the foreigners, too.

Speaking of obligations to each other, the text from Matthew addresses a specific tax.  The temple tax had its origin in Exodus 30:11-16.  Each Jew at least twenty years old had to pay half a shekel per year.  Subsequent time and tradition altered the amount and led to disagreements about whether the Temple tax ought to be voluntary or mandatory, and whether was supposed to an annual payment or a one-time gift.  Pharisees understood it as a mandatory annual tax; Sadducees thought it was voluntary, and Essenes understood it as a one-time donation.  Jesus paid the tax miraculously in the story, but not before making a point about a king’s tribute, and the fact the royal family does not pay such a tax.

This is a vital clue.  History tells us that Roman forces destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem in 7o C.E., but that the Empire imposed a new tax in the place of the Temple tax afterward, for the purpose of supporting the new Temple of Jupiter, which took the place of the former Jewish Temple.  And the writing of the Gospel of Matthew postdates that event.  So the original audience of that Gospel would have thought of that Roman tax.  Paul had written about freedom in Christ as well as the necessity to avoid abusing one’s spiritual freedom so as to harm others.  For example, he knew that other gods did not exist, so it might seem to be a shame to let perfectly good food dedicated to said deities go uneaten.  But others did not know that there is only one God.  So, for their sake, Paul advocated not eating such food.

So this is a difficult passage.  Does it mean that the Hebrew Christians after 70 C.E. had an obligation to pay the new, odious Roman tax?  Is this a hard teaching about the obligations of citizenship, even under occupation?  There are layers of Biblical analysis, and the purpose of this weblog is devotional.  So I choose to remain focused on that.  In this case, this mandate entails thinking about mutual obligations.

We humans have obligations to each other, and our freedoms are not absolute.  Think about traffic laws; they serve the common good.  This is a mundane example, but it makes a point.  A healthy spiritual ethic balances individual freedom and the common good; it tramples neither.  After all, God is attracted to all of us.

It is easy to grasp this concept when pondering people one likes, with whom one agrees, and who are like one.  But this can be challenging when thinking and speaking of those who do not fit any of those descriptions.  I find it challenging much of the time.  You, O reader, might not be so different from me in this regard.  But let us think more about what happened to Thomas Merton one day.  While standing on an urban sidewalk, he looked around and realized that he loved everybody.  This ethic defined his life from that moment forward.  May it define ours, too.  After all, God is attracted to us.