Archive for the ‘October 10’ Category

Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 23, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Tabernacle

Above:   The Tabernacle

Image in the Public Domain

Of Ritual Purity and Impurity

OCTOBER 10 and 11, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.

Keep us safe from all that may hurt us,

that, whole and well in body and spirit,

we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us to do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 14:33-53 (Thursday)

Numbers 4:34-5:4 (Friday)

Psalm 111 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 1:13-18 (Thursday)

2 Timothy 2:1-7 (Friday)

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Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

–Psalm 111:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Merely approaching the place of worship is impossible for some people in Numbers 5.  The precincts of the Tabernacle are to be ritually pure, excluding

anyone with an eruption or a discharge and anyone defiled by a corpse.

–Verse 2a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This rule reflects the fear of ritual impurity as a contagion, albeit a temporary one.  A build up of ritual impurity would, the prevailing voice of Numbers 5:2a feared, endangered the Presence of God in the community.  That contagion even spread to walls affected by mildew or rot (Leviticus 14:33-53).  In Numbers 5, however, the carriers of ritual impurity were those with skin diseases, sexual discharges, and those defiled by a corpse.

When I consider healing stories in the Bible, especially those involving Jesus, the first criterion of ritual impurity is frequently germane; the second criterion is relevant at least once.  The healing of the afflicted person is in part a restoration of him or her to wholeness, community, and centers of worship.

I, as a Gentile, seldom think about ritual purity or purity in general, except in negative terms.  The self-proclaimed theologically pure seem always to define people of my perspective as impure, after all.  And, when I think deeply about ritual purity, I find that the concept offends me.  Why, for example, should a gynecological or dermatological condition render one ritually impure?  I know that the purpose of the ritual purity system in the Torah is to separate human matters of sex and death from the experience of encountering God.  To restate that, the purpose of the Biblical ritual purity system is to heighten one’s God-like state temporarily, therefore making one temporarily eligible to enter the Presence of God in the designated place of worship.  Yet what about the spiritual anguish of the good people among the ritually impure?

As much as I approve of the practice of approaching God with full reverence (including in one’s attire at worship) and therefore appreciate the sense of awe with which the Law of Moses treats the Tabernacle, I also detect an exclusionary tone.  That bothers me, for the grounds for exclusion seem to be biological and medical, not moral.  They seem immoral to me, therefore.  I have none of the conditions which might render me ritually impure, but I am nevertheless always ineligible to enter the Presence of God in worship, except by grace.  I, as a Christian, understand this grace to have much to do with Jesus of Nazareth.  That is a sound teaching.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/of-ritual-purity-and-impurity/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 22, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Trees

Above:  Trees (1872), by C. D. Gedney

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-22358

Under Every Leafy Tree

OCTOBER 10, 2018

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, you have created us to live

in loving community with one another.

Form us for life that is faithful and steadfast,

and teach us to trust like little children,

that we may reflect the image of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 3:6-14

Psalm 112

Matthew 5:27-36

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Alleluia.

Blessed are those who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments.

–Psalm 112:1, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The translation of Jeremiah 3:6 in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) is vivid:

The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah:  Have you seen what Rebel Israel did, going to every high mountain and under every leafy tree, and whoring there?

That is a reference to idolatry, which more than one Biblical writer referred to as spiritual adultery.  There is good news, however:

Go, make this proclamation toward the north, and say:  Turn back, O Rebel Israel–declares the LORD.  I will not look on you in anger, for I am compassionate–declares the LORD.  I will not bear a grudge for all time.  Only recognize your sin; for you have transgressed against the LORD your God, and scattered your favors among strangers under every leafy tree, and you have not heeded Me–declares the LORD.

–Jeremiah 3:12-13, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That good news depends on turning away from sin and toward God, of course.

As I have noted in previous posts, what one does in private affects other people and what occurs between two people has consequences for others.  These realities are consistent with an ethic of responsibility to and for each other–mutuality.  This ethic undergirds the pericope from Matthew.  Actions flow from thoughts, hence the teaching about lusting in one’s heart.  The next verses include hyperbole; they are not orders to maim or mutilate oneself.  The teaching regarding divorce in Matthew 5:31, set in a patriarchal culture with no social safety net, exists for the protection of the woman, to spare her fates such as starvation or prostitution.  And how much better would society be if more people said what they meant and meant what they said?  The context of Matthew 5:33-37 is the practice of swearing false oaths while seeming not to do so.

How we behave toward each other and God matters greatly.  We owe everything to God, upon whom we depend completely.  One manifestation of a proper attitude toward God is treating one’s fellow human beings with the dignity inherent in bearing the image of God.  Some details of what that entails will vary according to circumstances, but the principle is eternal, constant, and timeless.  Why not seek to live humbly before God and to work for the best interests of one’s neighbors, rather than to sin “under every leafy tree,” metaphorical or literal?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 2, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, WASHINGTON GLADDEN, AND JACOB RIIS, ADVOCATES OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

THE FEAST OF CHARLES ALBERT DICKINSON, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORGE DUFFIELD, JR., AND HIS SON, SAMUEL DUFFIELD, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTERS

THE FEAST OF HENRY MONTAGU BUTLER, EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/under-every-leafy-tree/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 22, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

JMD_7589

Above:  In Memory of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Who Gave His Life for Another Human Being Near Selma, Alabama, in 1965

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Reconciliation

OCTOBER 9 and 10, 2017

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 19:10-14 (Monday)

Isaiah 27:1-6 (Tuesday)

Psalm 144 (Both Days)

1 Peter 2:4-10 (Monday)

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (Tuesday)

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May there be no breaching of the walls, no going into exile,

no wailing in the public squares.

Happy are the people of whom this is so!

happy are the people whose God is the LORD!

–Psalm 144:15-16, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Old Testament readings use the imagery of vineyards to describe the people of God.  In Ezekiel 19 this is the meaning of that metaphor, with the Kingdom of Judah as a vine therein and the ill-fated King Zedekiah as a stem.  Exile came, of course.   And we read in Isaiah 27 that the future vineyard will be a glorious and Godly one, that redemption will come.  Yet the consequences of sin will stay play out.

Redemption via Christ Jesus is the topic in the readings from 1 Peter 2 and 2 Corinthians 5.  Christ reconciles us to God.  Jesus is the innocent Lamb of God, the cornerstone of faith for Christians and a stumbling block for others.  Our spiritual tasks as the redeemed include functioning as agents of divine reconciliation.  Grace is free, but not cheap.  As I consider the honor roll of reconcilers in the name of Jesus I notice the names of many martyrs and other persecuted people. Jesus is there, of course, as is St. Paul the Apostle.  In recent decades martyred reconcilers have included Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador (died in 1980) and Jonathan Myrick Daniels (died in 1965) and the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (died in 1968), of the United States.  Others, such as Nelson Mandela (died in 2013) spent long terms in prison then did much to heal the wounds of their societies.

Judgment and mercy coexist in the Bible.  The first comes then the second follows; that is a recurring pattern in the Old and New Testaments.  Reconciling, not seeking revenge, is the way to break the cycle of violence and to start the cycle of love and peace.  Relinquishing our bloodlusts can prove difficult, but the price of not doing so is both avoidable and terrible.

May we reconcile with God and, as much as possible, with each other.  The latter will prove impossible sometimes, due to conditions such as the death, inability, or unwillingness of the other party or parties.  In such cases at least one person can surrender the grudge; that is progress, at least.  And grace enables not only that but reconciliation in other cases.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/reconciliation/

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Devotion for October 10 and 11 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

GoldCalf

Above:  The Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Nicolas Poussin

Image in the Public Domain

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part X:  Stiff-Necked People

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2019, and FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2019

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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

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 9:1-22 (October 10)

Deuteronomy 9:23-10:22 (October 11)

Psalm 97 (Morning–October 10)

Psalm 51 (Morning–October 11)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening–October 10)

Psalms 142 and 65 (Evening–October 11)

Matthew 11:1-19 (October 10)

Matthew 11:20-30 (October 11)

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Dark clouds surround the readings for these days.  In Deuteronomy 9:6 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures) Moses tells the Israelites:

Know then that it is not for any virtue that your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

Subsequently described events confirm that statement.  And only the intercessions of Moses, who suffered for the people, spare them from destruction by God.

Speaking of suffering intercessors, we have Jesus in Matthew 11.  He fasts and critics accuse him of excessive asceticism.  He eats and drinks and critics allege that he is a glutton and a drunkard.  What is a Son of God and Son of Man to do?  Whatever he does, someone criticizes him.  Yet he finds a more responsive audience among many Gentiles.  At least St. John the Baptist, distressed at the end of his life, had an honest question, not a predisposition to carping and to finding fault.

Many people are impossible to please.  Others are merely extremely difficult to please.  Still others are more persuadable via good evidence and are therefore less likely to prove unpleasant.  I hope that I fall into the last category, not either of the first two, in God’s estimation.  What more than that what God has done already must God do to persuade?  Was liberating the Israelites insufficient?  Was feeding them and providing water in the desert not enough?  Is the Incarnation not to our liking?  How stiff are our necks?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES LEWIS MILLIGAN, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCULF OF NANTEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/deuteronomy-and-matthew-part-x-stiff-necked-people/

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Week of Proper 22: Wednesday, Year 2   14 comments

Above:  A Checkmark

Checklists and Life

OCTOBER 10, 2018

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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.

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I have expanded the first reading to encompass the entire second chapter of Galatians.–KRT

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Galatians 2:1-21 (Revised English Bible):

Fourteen years later, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and we took Titus with us.  I went in response to a revelation from God; I explained, at a private interview with those of repute, the gospel which I preach to the Gentiles, to make sure that the race I had to run and was running should not be in vain.  Not even my companion Titus, Greek though he is, was compelled to be circumcised.  That course was urged only as a concession to certain sham Christians, intruders who had sneaked in to spy on the liberty we enjoy in the fellowship of Christ Jesus.  These man wanted to bring us into bondage, but not for one moment did I yield to their dictation; I was determined that the full truth of the gospel should be maintained for you.

As for those reputed to be something (not that their importance matters to me:  God does not recognize these personal distinctions)–these men of repute, I say, imparted nothing further to me.  On the contrary, they saw that I had entrusted to take the gospel to the Gentiles as surely as Peter had been entrusted to take it to the Jews; for the same God who was at work in Peter’s mission to the Jews was also at work in mine to the Gentiles.

Recognizing, then, the privilege bestowed on me, those who are reputed to be pillars of the community, James, Cephas, and John, accepted Barnabas and myself as partners and shook hands on it:  the agreement was that we should go to the Gentiles, while they went to the Jews.  All they asked was that we should keep in mind the poor, the very thing I have always made it my business to do.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  For until some messengers came from James, he was taking his meals with gentile Christians; but after they came he drew back and began to hold aloof, because he was afraid of the Jews.  The other Jewish Christians showed the same lack of principle; even Barnabas was carried away and played false like the rest.  But when I say that their conduct did not square with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas, in front of the whole congregation,

If you, a Jew born and bred, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, how can you insist that Gentiles must live like Jews?

We ourselves are Jews by birth, not gentile sinners, yet we know that no one is ever justified by doing what the law requires, but only through faith in Christ Jesus.  So we too have put our faith in Jesus Christ, in order that we might be justified through this faith, and not through actions dictated by law; for no human being can be justified by keeping the law.

If then, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves no less than the Gentiles turn out to be sinners, does that mean that Christ is a promoter of sin?  Of course not!  On the contrary, it is only if I start building up again all I have pulled down that I prove to be one who breaks the law.  For through the law I died to law–to live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ:  the life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in my me; and my present mortal life is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.  I will not nullify the grace of God; if righteousness comes by law, then Christ died for nothing.

Psalm 117 (Revised English Bible):

Praise the LORD, all nations,

extol him, all you peoples;

for his love protecting us is strong,

the LORD’s faithfulness is everlasting.

Praise the LORD.

Luke 11:1-4 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Now once he [Jesus] was in a certain place praying, and when had finished one of his disciples said,

Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.

He said to them,

Say this when you pray:

“Father, may your name be held holy,

your kingdom come;

give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive each one of us who is in debt to us.

And do not put us to the test.”

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 22:  Wednesday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/week-of-proper-22-wednesday-year-1/

Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/take-my-life-and-let-it-be-consecrated-lord-to-thee/

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Galatians 2 begins with an account of the Council of Jerusalem.  Paul’s version is older and more pointed than the account one reads in Acts 15:1-29.  The Luke-Acts version postdates Paul’s death by perhaps two decades, a fact I find interesting because of my fascination with history.  As a student and teacher of history, I know well that historical memory is not static.  Obviously, what happened, happened.  Yet how we humans remember it is flexible.  The Bible is a sacred anthology, but it is also a product of human beings.  So yes, one who reads the two accounts of the Council of Jerusalem extremely closely will detect minor discrepancies, but the descriptions are much more similar than not.  Anyhow, the Pauline retelling of that Council brings up the theme of Christian liberty  from certain details of the Law of Moses, such as male circumcision.

I am trying not to get ahead of myself, to let Galatians unfold from chapter to chapter as much as possible.  Yet I must jump ahead a little bit.  We read in Galatians 3:24 that the Law of Moses was a disciplinarian.  The Greek word for disciplinarian indicated a household servant who kept children from getting into trouble.  So the law, to use Paul’s analogy, was in place to keep people in the straight and narrow–certainly a positive role.  But coloring inside the lines cannot give us a right relationship with God.  We can have that state of justification

only through faith in Christ Jesus,

that is, through grace and self-sacrifice, now that Jesus has come.

A well-written checklist can be essential; we all need our “to do” lists.  And knowing what to avoid can be just as valuable.  But these are means to an end, not the end itself.  My reading of late Second Temple Judaism and the Law of Moses tells me that the Law was never meant to become the legalistic tool some people treated it as being.  The Law was supposed to promote social justice, not cover up greed and justify economic injustice.  And it was not intended to constitute a checklist for the checklist’s sake.  Yet that was how some people treated it.

Embedded within the Law of Moses are the commandments to love another as one loves oneself (Leviticus 19:18) and God fully (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).  These are the sources from which Jesus pulled his summary of the Law of Moses in Mark 12:28-31.  And Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of our Lord, summarized the Law of Moses with a simple formula:

Here, O Israel, the LORD your God is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, and mind, and strength.  And you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Everything else is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Hillel and Jesus agreed on that point.  So may we refrain from stereotyping the Law of Moses and late Second Temple Judaism falsely.

Paul also wrote of faith.  He meant something far more substantial than lip service or intellectual assent to doctrine.  No, for Paul, faith was inherently active.  In contrast, faith in the Letter of James was more intellectualized, hence that epistle’s fixation on justification by works.  Paul and James really agreed, and one ought to realize this fact after reading each in context.  These subtleties matter to me, one who pays close attention to nuances in many settings, especially Biblical texts.

So God has given us guidelines, some of which are culturally conditioned.  Many literal details in the Law Moses have no bearing to me, given the fact that my lifestyle and technology is far removed from that of the ancient Hebrews.  And I refuse to stone anyone or even to remove the blends from my wardrobe, actions which a hyper-literal reading would require of me.  (And, living in football-crazy Athens, Georgia, I note that the Law of Moses forbids touching a pigskin.)  Yet I recognize that the spirit of overall Law of Moses transcends time and circumstances.  Hillel and Jesus got it right:  focus on the love.  And Paul agreed in Romans 13:8-10; loving one’s neighbor fulfills the Law.  Jesus has, by his example, set the bar high.  and he did not die for nothing, as Paul reminds us.  Jesus died for us; may we live for him.  And, if martyrdom is our vocation, may we also die for him.  But, whatever we do, may we do it for him.  In that is life.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/checklists-and-life/

Week of Proper 22: Thursday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Elijah in the Wilderness, by Washington Allston (1779-1843)

Image in the Public Domain

It’s Not Fair!

OCTOBER 10, 2019

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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.

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Malachi 3:13-20a (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Versification in parts of the Hebrew Scriptures varies, according to whether one uses the Protestant system or the Jewish and Roman Catholic system.  So, for many of you, the versification is 3:13-4:2a.  The Book of Malachi has the same number of verses in Jewish and Catholic Bibles as in Protestant ones, but a fourth chapter and a shorter third chapter in Protestant versification.  

You have spoken hard words against Me

–said the LORD.

But you ask, “What have we been saying among ourselves against You?”  You have said, “It is useless to serve God.  What have we gained by keeping His charge and walking in abject awe of the LORD of Hosts?  And so, we account the arrogant happy; they have indeed dared God and escaped.”  In this vein have those who revere the LORD been talking to another.  The LORD has heard and noted it, and a scroll of remembrance has been written at His behest concerning those who revere the LORD and esteem His name.  And on the day that I am preparing,

said the LORD of Hosts,

they shall be My treasured possession; I will be tender toward them as a man is tender toward a son who ministers to him.  And you shall come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him who has served God and him who has not served Him.

For lo!  That day is at hand, burning like an oven.  All the arrogant and all the doers of evil shall be straw, and the day that is coming

–said the LORD of Hosts–

shall burn them to ashes and leave them neither stock nor boughs.  But for you who revere My name a sun of victory shall rise to bring healing.

Psalm 1 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked;

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2  Their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and they meditate on his law day and night.

3  They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;

everything they do shall prosper.

4  It is not so with the wicked;

they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

5  Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,

nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6  For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Luke 11:5-13 (The Jerusalem Bible):

He [Jesus] also said to them,

Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, ‘ My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him;’ and the man answers from inside the house, ‘Do not bother me.  The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it you.’  I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.

So I say to you:  Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will have the door opened to him.  What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread?  Or hand him a snake instead of a fish?  Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Consider this:

Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start?  Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves?  You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill.  You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force.  Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it; when you do pray you don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly, you have prayed for something to indulge your own desires.  (James 4:1-3, The Jerusalem Bible)

and this:

“Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven.  This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets….Alas for you when the world speaks well of you!  This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.”  (Luke 6:22-23, 26, The Jerusalem Bible)

and this:

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer;

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,

Thou wilt find a solace there.

(From verse 3 of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus, printed in The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal, 1938)

My first thought concerns “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  If your “friends” despise and forsake one, they are not really friends.  A now-deceased member of a parish to which I used to belong made this point to me.  How many times had I sung this song growing up and never read the words.  I read the words to hymns now.

The question of why good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people, of why the evil and those indifferent to God prosper while the genuinely loving, kind, and faithful struggle and suffer, is an old one.  It was not an abstract question for Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, or Paul of Tarsus; it was their lived experience.  It has been the lived experience of many faithful Christians who have since joined the Church Triumphant, and it is the lived experience of many Christians today.

The answer, from Malachi to Paul of Tarsus to John to Patmos, is that those who remain faithful to the end will find their deliverance.  As Paul wrote, if we suffer with Christ we will reign with him.

A few days ago a friend invited me to watch Of Gods and Men (2010), a moving movie about French Trappist monks living in Algeria in the middle 1990s.  The small community of monks forms the nucleus of the surrounding village, members of which depend of them for spiritual advice and medical care.  But militant fundamentalist terrorists, who, according to the local Muslims, have not read the Koran, at least closely, threaten the villagers and the monks.  The Trappists have the option to leave for a safe place, but, after struggling and praying, decide to stay.  “The servant is not above his master,” one monk says, quoting Jesus, when he explains his vote to remain and face the danger.  All but two monks in the community die at the end of the movie.  Those who died were martyrs, for their life of faith led to their deaths.  They died because they served God in their neighbors.

The movie, based on a true story, has occupied my thoughts for days.  What would I do in such a circumstance?  Would I act as the monks did, meditating on the sufferings of Christ and following him?  Or would I seek the easy way out?  Would I prefer an easy life (for whatever purpose, if any at all) or accept a difficult death for God?

In the end, Malachi and John of Patmos tell us, those who endure will receive their reward from God, and the unrepentant evildoers will receive their punishment.  This might be of little or no comfort at the present, while the good suffer, but it is the answer we have.  This is a valid question and a great theological problem (in the way that academics use the word “problem”).  Maybe I will get an answer from God in person one day.  Until then, this is the answer I have.

My response, for now, is to try to live faithfully, in love, not animosity and theological know-it-allism mixed with quick judgmentalism.  If I am wrong, may I be wrong in love.  If I am correct, may I be correct in love.  God is my judge; God is your judge; God is everybody’s judge.  And in him there is also mercy.  Much seems unfair; much is unfair.  Humble Trappists monks ought not to die at the hands of terrorists.  Elijah and Jeremiah should not have suffered for obeying God.  But they did.

Such is the world in which we live.  May the love of God, shining in and through us, shed light in it.  As for the rest, that is in God’s hands.  My call from God is to live faithfully, not with all knowledge.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/its-not-fair/