Archive for the ‘August 6: Ascension’ Category

Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 13, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Salt Shaker

Above:  A Salt Shaker

Image in the Public Domain

Gracious Speech Seasoned With Salt

AUGUST 5 and 6, 2019


The Collect:

Benevolent God, you are the source, the guide, and the goal of our lives.

Teach us to love what is worth loving,

to reject what is offensive to you,

and to treasure what is precious in your sight,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44


The Assigned Readings:

Ecclesiastes 2:1-17 (Monday)

Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:8 (Tuesday)

Psalm 127 (Both Days)

Colossians 3:18-4:1 (Monday)

Colossians 4:2-6 (Tuesday)


If Yahweh does not build a house

in vain do its builders toil.

If Yahweh does not guard a city

in vain does its guard keep watch.

–Psalm 127:1, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


The key word from the readings from Ecclesiastes is “futility.”  The quest for wealth is futile.  Seeking happiness in wealth is futile.  At least one can obtain some enjoyment from possessions, not that one can take them along for the journey after death.

Colossians 3:18-4:6 offers some uncomfortable material.  First we encounter the verse about wives being subject to their husbands.  The next verse mitigates it somewhat by speaking of a husband’s obligation to love his wife and never to be harsh with her.  At least in Ephesians 5, when these topics arise, they do so in the context of

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

–5:21, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

The next difficult topic is slavery, which the New Testament condemns nowhere.  Slavery in the Roman Empire was different from race-based chattel slavery, of courrse, but I posit that all forms of slavery are wrong at all times and at all places.  The expectation that Jesus would return soon and inaugurate social justice informed the absence of a condemnation of slavery, but (A) that was nearly 2000 years ago, (B) Jesus did not return, and (C) the mandate to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself applies in all places an at all times.  At least the text noted that there is no partiality with God.

The parting advice from Colossians 4 is timeless:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.

4:6, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Graciousness flows from and imparts grace.  Salt preserves and amplifies flavor.  Contrary to the term “salty language,” gracious speech seasoned with salt builds up others.  It edifies them; it does not insult them.  And it is not futile.

May your speech, O reader, be gracious and seasoned with salt more often that it is already.  May mine be likewise.  May we glorify God, not ourselves.  May we function as effective agents of grace.










Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 13, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Manna

Image in the Public Domain

Our Insufficiency and God’s Sufficiency

AUGUST 6 and 7, 2018


The Collect:

O God, eternal goodness, immeasurable love,

you place your gifts before us; we eat and are satisfied.

Fill us and this world in all its need with the life that comes only from you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 11:16-23, 31-32 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 8:1-20 (Tuesday)

Psalm 107:1-3, 33-43 (Both Days)

Ephesians 4:17-24 (Monday)

1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (Tuesday)


Whoever is wise will ponder these things,

and consider well the mercies of the LORD.

–Psalm 107:43, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Sometimes the Bible harps on a theme, repeating itself.  I notice this most readily while following a well-constructed lectionary and trying to find new ways to make one post in a series based on that lectionary read differently than some of its preceding posts.  This is easier on some occasions than on others.

The repeated theme this time is that we humans depend on God for everything, rely on each other, and are responsible to and for each other.  I have written about this many times, including in the previous post.  We ought not to cling to the idol of self-sufficiency, the assigned readings tell us.  No, we have a responsibility to trust and obey God, who is faithful to divine promises.  God, who fed the former Hebrew slaves in the desert, calls people to lead holy lives marked by the renewing of minds and the building up of the community of faith.  Love–agape–in 1 Corinthians 13, which follows on the heels of the reading from 1 Corinthians 12, is selfless, self-sacrificial love, a virtue greater than faith and hope.

If acceptance of our insufficiency injures our self-esteem, so be it.  Humility is a virtue greater than ego.  Actually, a balanced ego–a realistic sense of oneself–is a virtue which includes humility.  Raging egos and weak egos are problems which lead to the same results–destroyed and missed opportunities, lives of selfishness, and the failure to acknowledge one’s complete dependence on God.  The desire to build up oneself at the expense of others damages not only one but the group(s) to which one belongs and the people around one.

May the love which 1 Corinthians 13 describes define our lives, by grace.  May acceptance of our total dependence upon God, our reliance upon each other, and our responsibilities to and for each other define our lives, by grace.  And may a faithful walk with God, who is trustworthy, define our lives, by grace.








Devotion for August 4, 5, and 6 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

Above:  Malta, July 29, 2001

Image Source = Jet Propulsion Laboratory

1 Samuel and Acts, Part IX:  If God Is For Us….





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 18:10-30 (August 4)

1 Samuel 19:1-24 (August 5)

1 Samuel 20:1-23 (August 6)

Psalm 110 (Morning–August 4)

Psalm 62 (Morning–August 5)

Psalm 13 (Morning–August 6)

Psalms 66 and 23 (Evening–August 4)

Psalms 73 and 8 (Evening–August 5)

Psalms 36 and 5 (Evening–August 6)

Acts 27:27-44 (August 4)

Acts 28:1-15 (August 5)

Acts 28:16-31 (August 6)


The readings from 1 Samuel and the Acts of the Apostles emphasize the positive.  Yes, Saul tries to kill David, but the younger man escapes.  David falls in love; surely that is positive.  And Paul and his fellow prisoners survive a shipwreck.  The story of Luke-Acts ends  before Paul’s beheading; he is in Rome, teaching.

The unifying element in each narrative is that God was with the heroic figure.  Yet bad things do happen to faithful people.  Accounts of Christian martyrs confirm this fact.  And August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration.  After the Transfiguration our Lord and Savior traveled to Jerusalem for the fateful, final Passover week of his earthly life.  But he emerged victorious on the other side, did he not?

I will not resolve the problem of why bad things happen to good people in this blog post.  But I can make one definitive statement:  It is better to suffer while on God’s side than to do so while not on God’s side.








Week of Proper 13: Monday, Year 2, and Week of Proper 13: Tuesday, Year 2   2 comments

Above:  Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Bad News and Good News

AUGUST 6 and 7, 2018


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.



Jeremiah 28:1-17 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

That year, early in the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was from Gibeon, spoke to me in the House of the LORD, in the presence of the priests and all the people.  He said:

Thus said the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel:  I hereby break the yoke of the king of Babylon.  In two years, I will restore to this place all the vessels of the House of the LORD which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took from this place and brought to Babylon.  And I will bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the Judean exiles who went to Babylon

–declares the LORD.

Yes, I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.

Then the prophet Jeremiah answered the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and of all the people who were standing in the House of the LORD.  The prophet Jeremiah said:

Amen!  May the LORD do so!  May the LORD fulfill what you have prophesied and bring back from Babylon to this place the vessels of the House of the LORD and all the exiles!  But just listen to this word which I address to you and to all the people:  The prophet who lived before you and me from ancient times prophesied war, disaster, and pestilence against many lands and great kingdoms.  So if a prophet prophesies good fortune, then only when the word of the prophet comes true can it be known that the LORD really sent him.

But the prophet Hananiah removed the bar from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, and broke it, and Hananiah said in the presence of all the people,

Thus said the LORD:  So will I break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from off the necks of all the nations, in two years.

And the prophet Jeremiah went on his way.

After the prophet Hananiah had broken the bar from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah:

Go say to Hananiah:  Thus said the LORD:  You broke bars of wood, but you shall make bars of iron instead.  For thus said the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel:  I have put an iron yoke upon the necks of all those nations, that they may serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon–and serve him they shall!  I have even given the wild beasts to him!

And the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah,

Listen, Hananiah!  The LORD did not send you, and you have given the people lying assurances.  Assuredly, thus said the LORD:  I am going to banish you from off the earth.  This year you shall die, for you have urged disloyalty to the LORD.

And the prophet Hananiah died that year, in the seventh month.


Jeremiah 30:1-2, 22-30 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD:

Thus said the LORD, the God of Israel:  Write down in a scroll all the words that I have spoken to you.

For thus said the LORD:

Your injury in incurable,

Your wound severe;

No one pleads for the healing of your sickness,

There is no remedy, no recovery for you.

All your lovers have forgotten you,

They do not seek you out;

For I have struck you as an enemy strikes,

With cruel chastisement,

Because your iniquity was so great

And your sins so many.

Why cry out over your injury,

That your wound in incurable?

I did these things to you

Because your iniquity was so great

And your sins so many.


All who wanted to devour you shall be devoured,

And every one of your foes shall go into captivity;

Those who despoiled you I will give up to pillage.

But I will bring healing to you

And cure you of your wounds

–declares the LORD.

Though they called you, “Outcast,

That Zion whom no one seeks out,”

Thus said the LORD:

I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents

And have compassion upon his dwellings.

The city shall be rebuilt on its mound,

And the fortress in its proper place.

From there shall issue thanksgiving

And the sound of dancers.

I will multiply them,

And they shall not be few;

I will make them honored,

His children shall be as of old,

And his community shall be established by My grace;

And I will deal with all his oppressors.

His chieftain shall be one of his own,

His ruler shall come from his midst;

I will bring him near, that he may approach Me

–declares the LORD–

For who would otherwise dare approach me?

You shall be My people,

And I will be your God.


Psalm 119:89-96 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

89  O LORD, your word is everlasting;

it stands firm in the heavens.

90  Your faithfulness remains from one generation to another;

you established the earth, and it abides.

91  By your decree these continue to this day;

for all things are your servants.

92  If my delight had not been in your law,

I should have perished in my affliction.

93  I will never forget your commandments,

because by them you give me life.

94  I am yours; oh, that you would save me!

for I study your commandments.

95  Though the wicked lie in wait for me to destroy me,

I will apply my mind to your decrees.

96  I see that all things come to an end,

but your commandment has no bounds.


Psalm 102:16-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

16 For the LORD will build up Zion,

and his glory will appear.

17 He will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless;

he will not despise their plea.

18 Let this be written for a future generation,

so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD.

19 For the LORD looked down from his holy place on high;

from the heavens he beheld the earth;

20 That he might hear the groan of the captive

and set free those condemned to die;

21 That they may declare in Zion the Name of the LORD,

and his praise in Jerusalem;

22 When the peoples are gathered together,

and the kingdoms also, to serve the LORD.


Matthew 13:13-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said,

This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.

Jesus said to them,

They need not go away; you give them something to eat.

They replied,

We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.

And he said,

Bring them here to me.

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


Matthew 14:22-36 (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

Directly after this Jesus insisted on his disciples’ getting aboard their boat and going on ahead to the other side, while he himself sent the crowds home.  And when he had sent them away he sent up the hill-side quite alone, to pray.  When it grew late he was there by himself while the boat was by now a good way from the shore at the mercy on the waves, for the wind was dead against them.  In the small hours Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples caught sight of him walking on water they were terrified.

It’s a ghost!

they said, and screamed with fear.  But at once Jesus spoke to them.

It’s all right!  It’s I myself, don’t be afraid!

Peter said,

Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you on the water.

Jesus replied,

Come on, then.

Peter stepped down from the boat and began to walk on the water, making for Jesus.  But when he saw the fury of the wind he panicked and began to sink, calling out,

Lord save me!

At once Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying,

You little-faith!  What made you lose you nerve like that?

Then, when they were both aboard the boat, the wind dropped.  The whole crew came and knelt down before Jesus, crying,

You are indeed the Son of God!

When they had crossed over to the other side of the lake, they landed at Gennesaret, and when the men of that place had recognised him, they sent word to the whole surrounding country and brought all the diseased to him.  They implored him to let them “touch just the edge of his cloak”, and all those who did so were completely cured.


The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


I have written a devotional post covering two days because I cannot think of anything new to say about the Monday readings, the themes of which I have covered recently.  Joining the two Jeremiah readings, however, does yield something I hope will prove edifying.

Hananiah might have believed what he said.  Even if we assume the best about him, he was incorrect, and his words offered false assurance.  Sometimes we lie to ourselves first then proclaim what we believe to be true.  But we are still wrong and inaccurate in such circumstances.  Hananiah said that God would break the yoke the Babylonian king in two years.  A few years later, that monarch took over the Kingdom of Judah, already a vassal state.  Yet, God told Jeremiah, there would be a return from exile.  Chaldea/Neo-Babylonia, which devoured Judah, fell to the Persians and the Medes.  And the relationship between YHWH and the Jews became stronger.

You shall be My people,

And I will be your God.

–Jeremiah 30:22, TANAKH

There was good news after all, but it followed the bad news.

Sometimes we might feel forsaken by God.  Indeed, the Bible does, in places, speak of God forsaking and destroying entire empires.  Yet we might not be forsaken.  The feeling might be purely in our imagination.  Or we might face a chastisement before restoration.

May we keep in mind that those who wrote certain texts and edited their final drafts did so with certain perspectives–sometimes owing to hindsight–in mind.  Sometimes YHWH comes across as abusive and otherwise cruel then alternatively loving, exhibiting manic-depressive-style mood swings.  Those who wrote the Bible experienced God powerfully and expressed their experiences the best way they could.  Our sensibilities might not mesh well with theirs, and that fact does not necessarily speak poorly of us.  Our object should be to seek God, not to transform the Bible into an idol with which we seek to agree on every point.

The YHWH of the Jewish Bible was passionate for the chosen people.  This same God, I say, is passionate about you, O reader, and about me.  May we return the love, as best we can, by grace.


Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6)   8 comments

Above:  Church of the Transfiguration, built on Mt. Tabor, Israel, traditional site of the Transfiguration of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

Jesus:  Consistent with the Law and the Prophets


The Assigned Readings for This Feast:

Exodus 34:29-35

Psalm 99 or Psalm 99:5-9

2 Peter 1:13-21

Luke 9:28-36

The Collect:

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


When I read about events such as the Ascension and the Transfiguration I suspect that more happened than I read in texts.  I do not doubt the veracity of the accounts, but I suspect that words were inadequate to the full scope of events in question.  One just had to be there to get the full effect, and I am about 2,000 years too late for that.

The Transfiguration was a revelatory experience for the accompanying apostles.  They glimpsed the true nature of Jesus, which entails being consistent with the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah).  [A true story:  Recently Beth Long, my Rector, repeated a question a child in the parish asked.  How, this young person queried, did the apostles recognize Moses and Elijah?  Beth replied that she did not know.  Indeed, that is an intriguing question and a plot hole, but it does not distract me from the point of having Jesus, Moses, and Elijah together briefly.]  Yet Peter–”God bless him,” as we say in the U.S. South–wanted to remain in the moment and institutionalize it.  This reaction, although well-intentioned, was misguided, for Jesus and the apostles needed to move along.

They were headed for Jerusalem, where the Passion Narrative would unfold.  Just a few verses later (Luke 9:51), Jesus “turned his face toward Jerusalem,” and his impending death.  This is an important turning point in the Gospel of Luke, and one should read verses before it and after it in its context.  With that in mind, I propose that the Transfiguration was also a “booster shot” for Jesus, who was about to embark on a difficult, yet necessary, course.

When pondering the calendar of the Christian Church, one needs to remember that the earliest feast Christians observed was Easter.  Even Christmas (the observance of which developed later) exists in the shadow of Easter.  And the Transfiguration does, also.


JUNE 13, 2010



A Related Link:

O Wondrous Type!  O Vision Fair:


Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on June 13, 2010

Week of Proper 13: Tuesday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  Contrition

Image in the Public Domain

Human Sins and Divine Judgment and Mercy

AUGUST 6, 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.


Numbers 12:1-15 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses about the Cushite wife whom he had taken–because he had taken a Cushite wife.  And they said,

Has YHWH only just spoken through Moses?  Hasn’t he also spoken through us?

And YHWH heard.

And the man Moses was very humble, more than every human who was on the face of the earth.

And YHWH said suddenly to Moses and to Aaron and to Miriam,

Go out, the three of you, to the Tent of Meeting.

And the three of them went out.  And YHWH came down in a column of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent.  And He called,

Aaron and Miriam.

And the two of them went out.  And He said,

Hear my words:

If there will be a prophet among you,

I, YHWH, will be known to him in a vision;

in a dream I shall speak through him.

Not so is my servant Moses;

in all my house he is faithful.

Mouth to mouth I shall speak through him

and vision and not in enigmas,

and he will see the form of YHWH.

And why did you not fear to speak against my servant,

against Moses?”

And YHWH’s anger flared against them, and He went.  And the cloud turned from over the tent; and, here, Miriam was leprous, like snow.  And Aaron turned to Miriam, and, here, she was leprous.  And Aaron said to Moses,

In me, my lord.  Don’t set a sin on us, which we did foolishly and which we sinned.  Let her not be like the dead who, when he comes out of his mother’s womb, half of his flesh is eaten up!

And Moses cried out to YHWH, saying,

Oh, God, heal her!

And YHWH said to Moses,

And if her father had spit in her face, wouldn’t she be humiliated seven days?  Let her be closed up seven days outside the camp, and after that let her be gathered back.

And Miriam was closed up outside the camp seven days.  And people did not travel until Miriam were gathered back, and after that the people traveled from Hazeroth.  And they camped in the Paran wilderness.

Psalm 51:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak

and upright in your judgment.

6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,

and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem came and asked Jesus,

Why do your disciples break our ancient tradition and eat their food without washing their hands properly first?

Then he called the crowd to him and said,

Listen, and understand this thoroughly!  It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that makes him common or unclean.  It is what comes out of a man’s mouth that makes him unclean.

Later his disciples came to him and said,

Do you know that the Pharisees are deeply offended by what you said?

Jesus returned,

Every plant which my Heavenly Father did not plant will be pulled up by the roots.  Let them alone.  They are blind guides, and when one blind man leads another blind man they will both fall into the ditch!


The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


There is much confusion about the details of Numbers 16.  I assume the veracity of the Documentary Hypothesis, so scholarly interpretations of whether or not the Cushite (perhaps Ethiopian) wife of Moses is Zipporah or a second wife.  As interesting as that intellectual Gordian knot is, it does not serve any devotional purpose.  No, the simplest possible interpretation does that.  So, for the next few paragraphs, I proceed from that assumption that the unnamed Cushite wife is not Zipporah.

So Aaron and Miriam, the brother and sister of Moses, challenge their brother’s prophetic authority over this Cushite wife.  Let us be clear:  Cushites, according to the Torah, were descended from Noah via Ham.  So they were cousins, if you will.  They were also dark-skinned, not that Moses was pale.  Many of us carry European art- and Hollywood-Bible-epic-influenced images of biblical figures looked.  Ancient Semites did not look like Charlton Heston or Max von Sydow.

Anyhow, in our story God metes out punishment to Miriam, rendering her white, the opposite of Nubian.  How is that for poetic justice.  Moses intercedes for her, but God insists that she face punishment for seven days, which is what she would have faced if her father had insulted her by spitting in her face.  This last detail, plus the fact that Aaron did not face any penalty, seems alien to those of us influenced by modern feminism.  And we might be correct.  All I can say is that I did not write these stories, which come from a different culture with many assumptions we find abhorrent.  The Ten Commandments condemn adultery as a violation of the aggrieved husband’s property rights, the wife being the property, for example.  There is nothing wrong with arguing with these texts.

Anyhow, as I have written before, divine judgment and mercy coexist in the Bible.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus faces a question from some religious critics.  It seems that his disciples did not wash their hands ceremonially, and thereby ran afoul of ritual purity codes.  This bothered some scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus, in 15:3-9, criticizes his critics for condoning the practice of Korban, by which people left property to the religious establishment and deprived their relatives of necessary means of support. Korban was a detrimental tradition and a corruption of laws.  So, Jesus says, the real impurity is internal, not superficial.

The traditional English-language translation for this part of Matthew’s Gospel uses the word “defile” and variations thereof.  Yet I prefer the J. B. Phillips version because of its non-traditional choice:  “common or unclean.”  It gets to the point.  Ritual purity codes were about being uncommon, removed from the great unwashed masses.  They became occasions of the sin of pride, an offense of which our Lord’s adversaries in this account might not have been consciously aware.

These men needed to repent–to change their minds and turn around.  Jesus pointed out their sins to them.  Did they repent?  The narrative does not indicate any outcome, although it implies that they did not.  And Aaron, at least, seemed penitent, but what about Miriam?  She is silent at the end of Numbers 12.

You and I have enough free will to influence our narratives.  May the content of Psalm 51 be part of that spiritual journey.  And may we look deeply, not superficially, for impurity.  This is a great challenge, but grace is available to help us undertake then complete it–if we dare.  May we do so.


Proper 13, Year A   29 comments

Above: Byzantine Mosaic of John the Baptist, from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Image in the Public Domain

Called to Bring People to God

The Sunday Closest to August 3

The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

AUGUST 6, 2017



Genesis 32:22-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said,

Let me go, for the day is breaking.

But Jacob said,

I will not let you go, unless you bless me.

So he said to him,

What is your name?

And he said,


Then the man said,

You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.

Then Jacob asked him,

Please tell me your name.

But he said,

Why is it that you ask my name?

And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying,

For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.

The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Psalm 17:1-7, 16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offense with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against me.

16 But at my vindication I shall see your face;

when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.


Isaiah 55:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):

Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;

and you that have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without price.

Why do you spend money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

See, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know,

and nations that do not know you shall run to you,

because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.

Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 The LORD is loving to everyone

and his compassion is over all his works.

15 The LORD upholds all those who fall;

he lifts up those who are bowed down.

16 The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD,

and you give them their food in due season.

17 You open wide your hand

and satisfy the needs of every living creature.

18 The LORD is righteous in all his ways

and loving in all his works.

19 The LORD is near to those who call upon him,

to all who call upon him faithfully.

20 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;

he hears their cry and helps them.

21 The LORD preserves all those who love him,

but he destroys all the wicked.

22 My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD;

let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.


Romans 9:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):

I am speaking the truth in Christ– I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.


Matthew 14:13-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said,

This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.

Jesus said to them,

They need not go away; you give them something to eat.

They replied,

We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.

And he said,

Bring them here to me.

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The call of God transformed a schemer named Jacob into a the patriarch Israel.  That mandate was to be a light to the nations, and it applied to the Israelite people as a whole.  (It still does.)  To be set aside as chosen is to receive a great responsibility.  This is a matter of duty, not prestige.

That duty is to bring diverse peoples to God.  Read Matthew 13, which contains parables of inclusion.  The mustard plant was inclusive in so far as animals of various species took shelter within it.  This mustard plant was an allegory for the Kingdom of God.  And, when we turn to the wheat field infected with tares and the net full of good and bad fish, we read that God will sort out the good and the bad, the wheat and the weeds, later.

We read also in Matthew 13 that the Kingdom of God is precious, worthy of single-minded devotion.  Consider the brief parables of the pearl and the treasure.

So here we are in Matthew 14, following those parables and the execution of John the Baptist.  He drew people to God.  But lest we oversimplify, and say that we must always be nice, consider the examples of Jesus and John the Baptist.  They used harsh words when appropriate, and they contributed greatly to these holy men going to their deaths.  Read the prophets, also.  Was Jeremiah habitually polite and respectable?  No, of course not.  All these men suffered because of the ways they brought people to God.

Even being nice scared people and put Jesus at risk.  Few actions are nicer than feeding people.  But this and other miracles scared certain individuals who had the power to execute Jesus or to arrange such a death.

Why do we fear good, holy people at any time, in any place?  Sometimes their examples reveal our own shortcomings.  So, instead of seeking to correct our errors, we react defensively.  Or, in the case of Jeremiah, Jesus, and John the Baptist, they threaten power structures–such as domestic and foreign potentates and religious hierarchies.  And, in a society lacking the separation of religion and state, powerful political figures can label theological dissent as treason, or at least a moral threat to society.  This happened in the Byzantine Empire, too, and, in North America, in colonial New England.  (Puritans hanged Quakers.)

So being a light to the nations is a perilous vocation.  But it is God’s call.  It is the way to life, even if death is a stop along the way.  Countless saints, many of them martyrs, continue to teach this lesson by the example of their lives, even many years after their earthly journeys ended.  And contemporary martyrs and other saints do the same.  Potentates who persecute think that they can eradicate a message they fear.  But, time after time, history proves that the blood of the martyrs waters the church.  Persecution usually has the effect of increasing the brightness of the light the persecutors seek to extinguish.  These persecutors do not learn quickly or at all, do they?

And so the Kingdom of God continues unabated, much like the mustard plant Jesus used as a parable illustration.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

–John 1:5 (Revised Standard Version)