Archive for the ‘July 31’ Category

Epilogue to Posts Scheduled Around Proper 12, Year C (Revised Common Lectionary)   1 comment

The triumph of Mordechai *oil on panel *52 x 71,5 cm *1617

The triumph of Mordechai
*oil on panel
*52 x 71,5 cm

Above:  The Triumph of Mordecai, by Pieter Lastman

Image in the Public Domain

Esther VIII:  Grace and Bile

JULY 2019


This post covers Chapters 9, 10, and F (as The New American Bible labels them) of the Book of Exodus.

In the remainder of the Book of Esther many enemies of the Jews die and Esther and Mordecai live happily ever after.  An exaggerated number (75,000) of enemies of the Jews die violently, but no Jew engages in plundering.  Purim, a new feast, comes into existence.  Mordecai ranks second only to Ahasuerus, who rules well, presumably because Mordecai is advising him.  In the coda (in Chapter F) Mordecai recalls the dream from Chapter A and declares that dream fulfilled.

The Lord saved his people and delivered us from all these evils.  God worked signs and great wonders, such as have not occurred among the nations.

–Esther F:6b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Yet we know, do we not, that genocides have occurred and continue to do so?  There was, of course, the Holocaust during World War II.  Before that was the Turkish genocide of the Armenians during World War I.  Furthermore, there were genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda during the 1990s.  In the history of the Americas the decimation of indigenous populations after 1492 has pricked many consciences.  Many other genocides have occurred, of course, but I trust that I have made my point.

We human beings have the responsibility to act collectively and individually, for the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow mortals.  Genocide is incompatible with that goal, as in most violence.  Affirming this principle is relatively easy, but determining the best tactics is difficult.  At that point disagreements arise.  This can become an opportunity for a healthy debate based on common ground or for something unsavory.  How another person responds or reacts indicates much about him or her, just as how I respond or react speaks volumes about me.  May more of us respond (not react) out of divine love and functions as agents of grace, not bile.







Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 12, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Above:  Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

Esther VII:  Enemies

JULY 31, 2019


The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43


The Assigned Readings:

Esther 7:7-8:17

Psalm 55:16-23

Matthew 5:43-48


You, God, will thrust them down

to the abyss of destruction,

men bloodthirsty and deceptive,

before half their days are spent.

–Psalm 55:23, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


In Matthew 5:43-48, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors.  Those instructions contradict the psalm and the designated portion of the Book of Esther.

In the Book of Esther Haman meets his grisly end and King Ahasuerus grants permission to Mordecai and Queen Esther to revoked the first royal edict and order anything (in his name) they deem appropriate.  Ahasuerus remains a figure through whom others govern.  The monarch orders the execution of Haman and his sons and gives his property to Queen Esther.  She and Mordecai write the second royal edict (as contained in Chapter E, as The New American Bible labels it) in the name of Ahasuerus.  They authorize Jews living in the Persian Empire to attack their (the Jews’) enemies.  Mordecai receives special honors, and, throughout the empire, Jews rejoice and their enemies do not.

How much of this is justice and how much is revenge?  In the Law of Moses the penalty for perjury to convict someone falsely is symmetrical:

If the man who testified is a false witness, if he has testified falsely against his fellow, you shall do to him as he schemed to do to his fellow.  Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst; others will hear and be afraid, and such evil things will not again be done in your midst.  Nor must you show pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

–Deuteronomy 19:18b-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Nevertheless, there is a difference between justice and revenge.  I grasp the punishment of Haman yet wonder about the bloodbath reported subsequently in the Book of Esther.    “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless in time.

I, as a Christian, read the Bible through what the late Donald Armentrout called the “Gospel glasses.”  The four canonical Gospels contextualize the rest of the Bible for me.  The ethics of Jesus therefore override contradictory texts in my mind.  I am still working on loving my enemies as I understand the distinction between justice and revenge on one hand and revenge and a rescue operation on the other.  Some people will not cease from oppressing because others appeal to their consciences, which might not exist.  Nevertheless, is even necessary violence something to celebrate?






Devotion for Tuesday After Proper 12, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Covenant Confirmed

Above:   The Covenant Confirmed, by John Steeple Davis

Image in the Public Domain

Faith Communities

JULY 31, 2018


The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 24:1-11

Psalm 111

Romans 15:22-33



I will acknowledge the LORD with my whole being,

in the assembly, the gathering of honest men.

–Psalm 111:1, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)


St. Paul the Apostle planned to travel to Jerusalem then to Rome then to Spain.  Events of his time in Jerusalem led to his permanent relocation to Rome, where he died, however.

The pericope from Exodus 24 describes part of the ceremony by which the former Hebrew slaves accepted the covenant.  The theology of that text holds that divine holiness was lethal to most mortals (Moses being a notable exception), but that the people saw a reflection of God safely.  God was like the Sun in that way in that passage.  On the other hand, Jesus, as God incarnate, was among people, with many of whom he ate, so the theology of lethal divine holiness did not apply in the Gospels.  Theology changed between the Book of Exodus and the Gospel of Mark.

My main point in this post concerns communities of faith, however.  St. Paul longed to travel to Rome to find spiritual refreshment at the congregation there.  The covenant in Exodus was between God and the people.  Too much emphasis on individualism, an aspect of Western civilization, has long hampered a correct understanding of parts of the Bible in the global West.  Roman Catholicism has understood the focus on faith community well, fortunately, but my encounters with certain fundamentalist Protestants with “Jesus-and-me” theology have proven to be discouraging.

We humans have responsibilities to and for each other.  We also depend on God for everything and rely on each other’s labor.  Nobody is a self-made person, therefore.  These principles apply to faith communities also; we need each other.  May we know this to be true then act accordingly.








Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 12, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

King Solomon's Court

Above:  King Solomon’s Court

Image in the Public Domain

The Kingdom of Solomon Versus the Kingdom of God

JULY 31, 2017

AUGUST 1, 2017

AUGUST 2, 2017


The Collect:

Beloved and sovereign God,

through the death and resurrection of your Son

you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy.

By your Spirit, give us your wisdom,

that we may treasure the life that comes from

 Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43


The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 3:16-28 (Monday)

1 Kings 4:29-34 (Tuesday)

Proverbs 1:1-7, 20-33 (Wednesday)

Psalm 119:121-128 (All Days)

James 3:13-18 (Monday)

Ephesians 6:10-18 (Tuesday)

Mark 4:30-34 (Wednesday)


I am your servant; grant me understanding,

that I may know your decrees.

–Psalm 119:125, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The Biblical authors, although usually honest about the faults of heroic or allegedly heroic figures, nevertheless created a tapestry of ancient texts which sometimes overplays the virtues of certain people.  If David really was, for example, a man after God’s own heart, I have a major problem with the nature of God.  And, although the narrative of 1 Kings turned against Solomon after Chapter 4, Chapter 2 contained troubling information about the methods by which the new monarch consolidated his power and eliminated his rivals.  Thus the positive discussion of Solomon’s wisdom in Chapters 3 and 4 rings hollow for me.  Nevertheless, the much vaunted wisdom won him such a reputation that tradition has credited him with writing Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, historically dubious claims.

Perhaps nostalgia from a time after the division of the united monarchy–a split due in large part to Solomon’s own domestic policies–accounted primarily for the minimization of the acknowledged faults of David and Solomon.  I consider what the Bible tells me of those two kings and ponder Proverbs 1:7 (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989):

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Then I consider incidents from their lives and interpret the verse as a negative commentary on them.  I arrive at the same conclusion regarding this passage:

The wisdom that comes from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of merciful thoughts and kindly actions, straight forward, with no hint of hypocrisy.  And the peacemakers go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness.

–James 3:17-18, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition, 1972

I think also of the large plant which grows from a mustard seed.  (The mustard seed is not actually the smallest seed, but Jesus did not attend school to study horticulture.  Besides, there is a rhetorical device called hyperbole, which we find in the Bible.)  From that very small seed comes a large, pesky plant–a weed–to which the parable likens the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom, like the mustard plant, provides shelter for a variety of creatures and goes where it will.  One knows that not everyone in the Kingdom of God gets along well with each other, so this analogy is worth considering with regard to how we think of those who differ from us and are also of God.

David and Solomon presided over a kingdom built on force and compulsion, as political states are by nature.  Their Kingdom of Israel also sat on a foundation composed partially of economic injustice, evident partly in artificial scarcity.  In the weed-like Kingdom of God, however, there is no scarcity; everybody has enough.  The Kingdom of God functioned partially as a negative commentary on political-religious-economic realities within the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus and the early Church, contributing to his crucifixion.  The Kingdom of God continues to indict all forms of exploitation and injustice, including those which people have institutionalized.

The purpose of the Gospel, I have heard, is to comfort the afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.  Are we among the comfortable or the afflicted?








Devotion for July 31, August 1, and August 2 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

Above:  David and Goliath, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

1 Samuel and Acts, Part VII:  The Triumph of Faith Over Physical Strength





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 16:1-23 (July 31)

1 Samuel 17:1-19 (August 1)

1 Samuel 17:20-47 (August 2)

Psalm 65 (Morning–July 31)

Psalm 143 (Morning–August 1)

Psalm 86 (Morning–August 2)

Psalms 125 and 4 (Evening–July 31)

Psalms 81 and 116 (Evening–August 1)

Psalms 6 and 19 (Evening–August 2)

Acts 25:13-27 (July 31)

Acts 26:1-23 (August 1)

Acts 26:24-27:8 (August 2)


I was small among my brothers,

and the youngest in my father’s house;

I tended my father’s sheep.

My hands made a harp;

my fingers fashioned a lyre.

And who will tell my Lord?

The Lord himself; it is he who hears.

It was he who sent his messenger

and took me from my father’s sheep,

and anointed me with his anointing oil.

My brothers were handsome and tall,

but the Lord was not pleased with them.

I went out to meet the Philistine,

and he cursed me by his idols.

But I drew my own sword;

I beheaded him, and took away

disgrace from the people of Israel.

–Psalm 151, New Revised Standard Version

Saul knows David at the end of 1 Samuel 16 yet has not met him at the beginning of Chapter 17.  This is a major narrative discrepancy, evidence of the weaving together of different documents.  That is a scholarly matter, and I like such things.  But this is a devotional blog, so I focus my attentions in that direction.

A note on page 592 of The Jewish Study Bible (2004) begins

The story of David and Goliath demonstrates the triumph of faith over physical strength.

That excellent sentence provides a means for understanding not only 1 Samuel 17 but the life of St. Paul as a Christian.  One man proved crucial to Christian and world history.  The might of the Roman Empire, which executed him, proved powerless to quash Christianity.

As for St. Paul in Acts 25:13-26:32, he stood before Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herodian Dynasty and a client ruler for the Roman Empire.  Herod Agrippa II’s realm shifted according to Roman imperial decisions, but he did reign from 50 to 100 CE.  He, considered a religious leader, appointed the High Priest yet carried on an incestuous relationship with Bernice, his sister.  Yet this was the man who noted that St. Paul, if he had not appealed to the Emperor, could have gone free.  Unfortunately, the Emperor was Nero.

Yet, as Psalm 125:3 (The New Jerusalem Bible) reads,

The sceptre of the wicked will not come to rest

over the heritage of the upright….








Week of Proper 12: Tuesday, Year 2   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah, from the Sistine Chapel Paintings by Michelangelo Buonarroti

What We Need to Hear

JULY 31, 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 14:17-22 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

And do you speak to them thus:

Let my eyes run with tears,

Day and night let them not cease,

for my hapless people has suffered

A grievous injury, a very painful wound.

If I go out to the country–

Lo, the slain of the sword.

If I enter the city–

Lo, those who are sick with famine.

Both priest and prophet roam the land,

They know not where.

Have You, then, rejected Judah?

Have You spurned Zion?

Why have you smitten us

So that there we hope for happiness,

But find no good;

For a time of healing,

And meet terror instead?

We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD–

The iniquity of our fathers–

For we have sinned against You.

For Your name’s sake, do not disown us;

Do not dishonor Your glorious throne.

Remember, do not annul Your covenant with us.

Can any of the false gods of the nations give rain?

Can the skies of themselves give showers?

So we hope in You,

For only You made all these things.

Psalm 79:17-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name;

deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

10 Why should the heathen say, “Where is their God?”

Let it be known among the heathen and in our sight

that you avenge the shedding of your servant’s blood.

11 Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,

and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.

12 May the revilings with which they reviled you, O Lord,

return seven-fold into their bosoms.

13 For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture;

we will give you thanks for ever

and show forth your praise from age to age.

Matthew 13:36-43 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Later, he left the crowds and went indoors, where his disciples came and said,

Please explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.

Jesus replied,

The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the whole world.  The good seed?  That is the sons of the kingdom, while the weeds are sons of the evil one of this world.  The enemy who sowed them is the devil.  The harvest is the end of this world.  The reapers are angels.

Just as weeds are gathered up and burned in the fire so will it happen at the end of the world.  The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will uproot from the kingdom everything that is spoiling it, and all those who live in defiance of its laws, and will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be tears and bitter regret.  Then the good will shine out like the sun in their Father’s kingdom.  The man who has ears should use them!


The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


A Related Post:

Week of Proper 12:  Tuesday, Year 1:


Jeremiah prophesied in the context of many false prophets who claimed that the Babylonians would not conquer Judah.  Maybe they quoted the Book of Isaiah and interpreted the defeat of the Assyrians as the fulfillment of certain prophesies.  Maybe they understood the Book of Isaiah in that way; perhaps they interpreted it so in public while being insincere.  Regardless of their motivations, however, they were mistaken, as history tells us.

There is a basic psychological explanation for people’s preference for the false prophets instead of Jeremiah:  Good news is more appealing than bad news.  Yet sometimes the bearers of bad news tell us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear.  By grace, may we distinguish between genuine good news and false prophesy, between warnings we ought to heed and unreliable cries that the sky is falling.  The stakes are so high and the costs of making a mistake are severe.


Week of Proper 12: Wednesday, Year 1   10 comments

Above: Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer (Circa 1665)

Image in the Public Domain

Transformed by God

JULY 31, 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.


Exodus 34:29-35 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And it was when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’s hand when he was coming down from the mountain.  And Moses had not known that the skin of his face was transformed when He was speaking with him.  And Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses; and, here, the skin of his face was transformed, and they were afraid of going over to him.  And Moses called to them.  And Aaron and all the chiefs in the congregation came back to him, and he spoke to them.  And after that all the children of Israel went over.  And he commanded them everything that YHWH had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.  And Moses finished speaking with them, and he put a veil on his face.  And when Moses would come in front of YHWH to speak with Him, he would turn away the veil until he would go out; and he would go out and speak to the children of Israel what had been commanded.  And the children of Israel would see Moses’ face, that the skin of Moses’ face was transformed, and Moses would put back the veil on his face until he would come to speak with Him.

Psalm 99 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is King;

let the people tremble;

he is enthroned upon the cherubim;

let the earth shake.

2 The LORD is great in Zion;

he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome;

he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,

you have established equity;

you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

5 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and fall down before his footstool;

he is the Holy One.

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,

and Samuel among those who call upon his Name,

they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;

they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 “O LORD our God, you answered them indeed;

you were a God who forgave them,

yet punished them for their evil deeds.”

9 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and worship him upon his holy hill;

for the LORD our God is the Holy One.

Matthew 13:44-46 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

[Jesus continued,]

Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like some treasure which has been buried in a field.  A man finds it and buries it again, and goes off overjoyed to sell all his possessions to buy himself that field.

Or again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he has found a single pearl of great value, he goes and sells all his possessions and buys it.


The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


I suspect that the imagery in Exodus is pure poetry.  Some Biblical events are like that–words are inadequate for literal descriptions, so we have prose poetry instead.  The Revised Common Lectionary pairs this reading from Exodus with an account of the Transfiguration of Jesus for Sunday purposes.  And I recognize the same pairing in the readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration.  There is another example of a prose-poetic description.

Whatever the details were, contact with God had altered Moses so much that he was obviously different than he was before recent events on the mountain.  And so, as Richard Elliott Friedman states, the veil over the leader’s face became an indication of YHWH’s proximity, much like the visible, physical shrine.  Something mysterious was occurring, and people recognized this fact immediately.  Those who saw it responded with awe and wonder.  God was truly in their midst.

When one discovers that one is in the presence of God, how should one act?  Two brief parables of Jesus  speak to that issue.  One man finds a great treasure when not seeking it.  But he knows what he has found, stores it safely in the earth temporarily, sells all he owns, and uses the proceeds to purchase the field where he found the treasure.  Likewise, a merchant seeking a pearl, a much-admired object of beauty, finds it, sells all his possessions, and uses the money to purchase it.  So, whether we seek the knowledge that we are in the presence of God, or whether we stumble upon this realization, we ought to treasure this above all else.  Single-minded devotion is the proper response.

We are, of course, always in the presence of God.  If we look closely enough, we will recognize God in the faces of those we like and/or love, as well as those with whom we disagree and/or dislike.  God is present directly, as well as in those we know and those with whom we are not acquainted.  So, when people look at our faces with spiritual perception, will they see God reflected back at them?  And do we seek the same in others?

I choose to avoid much negativity, much of which is present in abundance on AM talk radio and in comments sections on many websites.  There one can find a plethora of vitriolic comments, many of which reflect more rage than anything else.  These are zones for people oblivious to objective reality.  So I will not find God there.  No, I prefer uplifting content, whether secular or overtly religious.  Consider the public domain image at the top of this post, for example.  It is an example of great art, but not of a religious nature.  Yet Vermeer paintings feed my soul, and in them I find the beauty which comes from God.

God is present in many places; may we find as many as possible.  Then may God transform us.