Archive for the ‘2 Corinthians 4’ Tag

Devotion for the Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year B (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Christ and the Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

The Sabbath, Suffering, and Piety

JUNE 2, 2024


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Psalm 81:1-10 (LBW) or Psalm 142 (LW)

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Mark 2:23-28


Lord God of all nations,

you have revealed your will to your people

and promised your help to us all. 

Help us to hear and to do what you command,

that the darkness may be overcome by the power of your light;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 24


O God,

whose never-failing providence sets in order all things

both in heaven and on earth,

put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things;

and give us those things that are profitable for us;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 62


The Sabbath is a divine gift.  The Deuteronomistic version of the Ten Commandments explains that the Sabbath is a mark of freedom; a free person, not a slave, gets a day off from work each week.  This explanation differs from that in the version of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.  In Exodus 20:11, the Redactor explains the rationale for the Sabbath as emulating God.

The Sabbath is a divine gift.  God liberates us.  God frees us to be out best possible selves, communities, congregations, et cetera.  In turn, obedience is hardly an onerous requirement.  Even during persecution, we are free to cry out to God for deliverance.  And we, as those who follow God, can follow it.  St. Paul the Apostle is identifying our suffering with that of Jesus.  If we suffer with our Lord and Savior–if we take up our cross and follow him–God will not abandon us either.  Our triumph may come in the afterlife, but it will come.

The Sabbath is a divine gift.  Yet many people, out of misguided piety, transform it into a burden.  With that comment I turn my attention to the reading from Mark 2.  People have to eat on the Sabbath, do they not?  Yes, plucking grain on the Sabbath is work, but the Law of Moses does not forbid all work on the Sabbath.  For example, circumcision must occur on the eighth day of a boy’s life, according to the Law of Moses.  If that day falls on the Sabbath, so be it.  Also, the Jewish tradition understands that keeping some commandments may require violating others, due to circumstances.  Prioritizing and ranking commandments is, therefore, necessary.

Yet some people did not receive that memorandum, so to speak.

Lambasting long-dead Pharisees is easy.  Examining ourselves spiritually may be challenging, though.  Do we have our precious categories, which we maintain strictly and piously, to the detriment of others?  Does our piety ever harm anyone or delay someone’s restoration to physical, emotional, or spiritual wholeness?  Does our piety ever cause or prolong the suffering of others?  If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” we practice misguided piety.











Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


Devotion for Proper 10, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Jesus Exorcising the Gerasene Demoniac

Image in the Public Domain

The Individual and the Collective, Part I

JULY 14, 2024


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 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


Exodus 3:1-15 or 2 Samuel 7:1-16

Psalm 50:10-15

2 Corinthians 4:7-18

Mark 5:1-20


Judgement, mercy, and responsibility are both individual and collective.  My Western culture traditionally favors the individual over the collective.  My culture is more comfortable with discussing individual responsibility than collective guilt and punishment.  Yet, O reader, consult some of today’s assigned readings.

  1. Mercy on enslaved Hebrews entailed punishment of Egyptians who, despite not being directly involved in slavery, benefited from it.
  2. Divine judgment of King David, as it played out after 2 Samuel 7, affected innocent subjects adversely.
  3. The owners of the swine herd paid a high economic price for the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (regardless of what psychiatric label we would assign to him today).
  4. Likewise, benefits of grace have also been collective.  We human beings have always influenced each other.  Grace in one life has led to grace in other lives.  Light in the darkness has shed light on people who were merely present.

Those who read the Bible in languages with different forms of second-person pronouns for the singular and the plural have an advantage over those of us for whom “you” and “your” are both singular and plural.  [I live in the U.S. South, where many people say “y’all,” the contraction of “you all.”  The plural form is “all y’all.”  For the purposes of this post, however, I focus on formal linguistic forms.]  The Bible is replete with the plural “you” and “your,” as I note when I consult a passage in the Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée (1978), with tu, ta, ton, vous, votre, vos, and tes.  Think, O reader, about prophets addressing populations, Jesus speaking to crowds and small groups, and authors of epistles writing to congregations.  May we cast off our cultural blinders and digest the Bible as it is.






Devotion for August 25 and 26 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   7 comments

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

1 Kings and 2 Corinthians, Part III:  Jesus, the Everlasting Temple

AUGUST 25 AND 16, 2023


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 Kings 7:51-8:21 (August 25)

1 Kings 8:22-30, 46-63 (August 26)

Psalm 67 (Morning–August 25)

Psalm 51 (Morning–August 26)

Psalms 46 and 93 (Evening–August 25)

Psalms 85 and 47 (Evening–August 26)

2 Corinthians 3:1-18 (August 25)

2 Corinthians 4:1-18 (August 26)


It is not ourselves that we proclaim; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.

–2 Corinthians 4:5, The Revised English Bible


I have read 1 Kings many times.  Each time I do so I notice details that I missed or did not focus on during each previous reading.  This time, for example, I have thought deeply about the forced labor involved in the construction of the First Temple.  And now, as I re-read the pious Deuteronomistic speech placed in Solomon’s mouth, I find that oratory irrelevant.  The Temple was grand, but it was the result of forced labor.

Paul wrote of passing glory in 2 Corinthians 3:7f.  That portion of the epistle led to a discussion of liberty in God.  Paul and his companions did suffer, sometimes in prison.  But they were free in God.  Their labor was not forced; they gave it of their own accord.  And they proclaimed Jesus, a Temple which no power could destroy.  The Roman Empire tried, but he rose from the dead.

Some might criticize me for my Marxian Conflict Theory-based interpretation of these texts.  So be it!  I seek to write from an attitude of concern rooted in the concept of the Image of God and in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Whose physical labor would Jesus coerce?








Proper 5, Year B   18 comments

Above:  Saint Paul Writing His Epistles (1500s Painting)


The Sunday Closest to June 8

The Second Sunday After Pentecost

JUNE 6, 2021



1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15), 16-20 (11:14-15) (New Revised Standard Version):

All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him,

You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said,

Give us a king to govern us.

Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel,

Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only– you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.

So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said,

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; [and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.] He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said,

No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.

[Samuel said to the people,

Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.

So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the LORD, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.]

Psalm 138 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart;

before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple

and praise your Name,

because of your love and faithfulness;

3 For you have glorified your Name

and your word above all things.

4 When I called, you answered me;

you increased my strength within me.

All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD,

when they have heard the words of your mouth.

They will sing of the ways of the LORD,

that great is the glory of the LORD.

7 Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly;

he perceives the haughty from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;

you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;

your right hand shall save me.

9 The LORD will make good his purpose for me;

O LORD, your love endures for ever;

do not abandon the works of your hands.


Genesis 3:8-15 (New Revised Standard Version):

The man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him,

Where are you?

He said,

I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

He said,

Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?

The man said,

The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.

Then the LORD God said to the woman,

What is this that you have done?

The woman said,

The serpent tricked me, and I ate.

The LORD God said to the serpent,

Because you have done this,

cursed are you among all animals

and among all wild creatures;

upon your belly you shall go,

and dust you shall eat

all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.

Psalm 130 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

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

LORD, hear my voice;

let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

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

O Lord, who could stand?

3  For there is forgiveness with you;

therefore you shall be feared.

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

in his word is my hope.

5  My soul waits for the LORD,

more than watchmen in the morning,

more than watchmen in the morning.

6  O Israel, wait for the LORD,

for with the LORD there is mercy;

7  With him there is plenteous redemption,

and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.


2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 (New Revised Standard Version):

Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture–

I believed, and so I spoke

— we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.


Mark 3:20-35 (New Revised Standard Version):

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying,

He has gone out of his mind.

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said,

He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.

And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables,

How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin

— for they had said,

He has an unclean spirit.

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him,

Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.

And he replied,

Who are my mother and my brothers?

And looking at those who sat around him, he said,

Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

The Collect:

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Costs:

Proper 5, Year A:

1 Samuel 8:

Genesis 3:

Mark 3:

O Blessed Mother:


Losing heart can be easy.  You, O reader, might know the feeling–I do–the recurring impression that beating one’s head against a wall, although painful and self-injurious, would at least yield observable results, which is more than one can say honestly about one’s current, recent, and long-standing efforts.  Yes, there are valid times to change tactics and therefore to cut one’s losses, and persistence which lasts too long can constitute beating a dead horse.  Yet sometimes one needs to persist longer before seeing positive results.  The problem, of course, is how to know the difference.

Paul faced much opposition to his Christian work and even argued with congregations.  Jesus dealt daily with dense Apostles.  Today I, as a Christian, stand on their shoulders, for the Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot) spread the word far and wide after our Lord’s death and Paul took the message to the Gentiles, of whom I am one.  And, of course, the Pauline tradition accounts for 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament.  Their persistence paid off.

Think about how patient and persistent God must be with you.  (I ponder how patient and persistent God has been and is with me.)  One of the themes in the Bible is focusing more on who one can be rather than who one is.  Simon Peter, an impetuous hothead, became a leader of the early Church.  Paul, once an oppressor of “the Way,” became perhaps its greatest missionary.  David went from tending his father’s flock of sheep to ruling a great kingdom.  Mary, an obscure young woman, became the Mother of God, the woman who had the greatest influence on how Jesus turned out.

May we discern God’s call to us and support each other in our divine vocations.  May we be patient with one another, persist through trials (without beating dead horses), and recognize each other’s potential then nourish it.  May we do all this for the common good and the glory of God.


Proper 4, Year B   21 comments

Above:  Corn

Regarding the Sabbath

The Sunday Closest to June 1

The Second Sunday after Pentecost

JUNE 3, 2018



1 Samuel 3:1-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli.  The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.  Then the LORD called,

Samuel, Samuel!

and he said,

Here I am!

and ran to Eli, and said,

Here I am, for you called me.

But he said,

I did not call, my son; lie down again.

Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.  The LORD called Samuel again, a third time.  And he got up and went to Eli, and said,

Here I am, for you called me.

Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy.  Therefore, Eli said to Samuel,

Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before,

Samuel! Samuel!

And Samuel said,

Speak, for your servant is listening.

Then the LORD said to Samuel,

See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.  On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.  For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restraint them.  Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD.  Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.  But Eli called Samuel and said,

Samuel, my son.

He said,

Here I am.

Eli said,

What was it that he told you?  Do not hide it from me.  May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.

So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.  Then he said,

It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.

As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.  The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, you have searched me out and known me;

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,

but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

You press upon me behind and before

and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made;

your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you,

while I was being made in secret

and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;

all of them were written in your book;

they were fashioned day by day,

when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God!

how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand;

to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.


Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (New Revised Standard Version):

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.  Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Psalm 81:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Sing with joy to God our strength

and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.

2 Raise a song and sound the timbrel,

the merry harp, and the lyre.

Blow the ram’s-horn at the new moon,

and at the full moon, the day of our fast.

For this is a statute for Israel,

a law of the God of Jacob.

He laid it as a solemn charge upon Joseph,

when he came out of the land of Egypt.

6 I heard an unfamiliar voice saying,

“I eased his shoulder from the burden;

his hands were set free from bearing the load.”

7 You called on me in trouble, and I saved you;

I answered you from the secret place of thunder

and tested you at the waters of Meribah.

8 Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you:

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

There shall be no strange god among you;

you shall not worship a foreign god.

10 I am the LORD your God,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said,

“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”


2 Corinthians 4:5-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.  For it is God who said,

Let light shine out of darkness,

who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in theface of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.  For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.


Mark 2:23-3:6 (New Revised Standard Version):

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him,

Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?

And he said to them,

Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?    He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest; and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.

Then he said to them,

The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  And he said to the man who had the withered hand,

Come forward.

Then he said to them,

Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?

But they were silent.  He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man,

Stretch out your hand.

He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Proper 4, Year A:

1 Samuel 3:

Exodus 29 (Parallel to Deuteronomy 5):

2 Corinthians 3:

Mark 2-3:

Matthew 12 (Parallel to Mark 2-3):

Luke 6 (Parallel to Mark 2-3):


Lectionaries cycle around and overlap.  I have written a large number of lectionary-based posts to date.  In so doing I have already said what I want to say regarding the sabbath theme of the readings.  Therefore I reproduce two devotions, both based on the reading from Mark.  Links to the original posts are above.


The Pharisees (most, not all of them) are among the bete noires of the canonical Gospels.  These very publicly pious people criticize Jesus, his Apostles, and even some people he healed again and again.  In all likelihood these critics did what they understood righteousness to require of them.  I prefer to extend to them the benefit of the doubt; they were wrong, but sincerely so.  They did not wake up each morning and plot how to be difficult spiritually, although much of what they did and the Gospels report to us constituted such.

Indeed, I think that we need to check ourselves for signs of being contemporary counterparts of the Pharisees.  Christian denominations have built up traditions over thousands and hundreds of years.  Many of these are functional and constructive, even beautiful.  Yet even something useful and beautiful can become an idol, if we transform it into that.  And ossification of tradition can occur easily, rendering us inflexible in the habits of our minds.  The stories of Jesus teach us many valuable lessons, including the importance of avoiding such ossification.

Consider this day’s reading from Mark.  Jesus and his Apostles violated many sabbath laws observant Pharisees kept.  There were many arcane sabbath laws, which split hairs more finely than any Philadelphia lawyer.  Taken together, the sabbath laws permitted preventing an emergency situation from getting worse yet forbade making it better.  For example, one could apply a plain bandage but not ointment to an injured finger on the sabbath.  So you should not be surprised to learn that plucking and eating corn was illegal on the sabbath.  Doing so remedied hunger, but that meant making something better.

This is a twisted way to think about the sabbath, is it not?  It transforms the sabbath, which is supposed to a gift and a marker of freedom (slaves did not get days off) into a burden and something to manage with the help of a very long checklist of forbidden activities.  Puritans did it too, and many observant self-professing Christians and Jews continue to treat the sabbath in this way.  We should not neglect the sabbath, of course, but we ought not treat it like a burden and an occasion of legalism, either.

Back to our story….

Jesus reminded his critics of scriptural precedents for what he had done.  In 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Exodus 25:23-30, and Leviticus 24:9 we find the relevant information about David and the showbread.  Mentioning David, the revered king, was powerful rhetorical tool, although it certainly did not impress hyper-critical Pharisees.  It did, however, point out the hypocrisy of Jesus’ critics, who were not the intended audience for the Gospel According to Mark.  So the comment finds its target even today, at least some of the time.  I wonder, though, how often well-intentioned Christians miss the power of this story, perhaps more out of a “I know that story already” attitude, if nothing else.

William Barclay, in his insightful commentary on the Gospel reading, points out that “Religion does not consist in rules and regulations” and “The best way to use sacred things is to use them for men.”  In other words, it is sinful to refuse to apply religious laws to prevent starving and very hungry people from eating–sabbath or not.  This principle applies to physical realities beyond hunger; it pertains to helping people with whatever distresses them.  Barclay concludes his section of the reading from Mark with this sentence:  “The final arbiter in the use of all things is love and not law.”

I could not have said it better.

We have a loving God and Lord.  The works of God are marvelous and utterly spectacular.  And Jesus became not only our priest but our passover lamb.  That demonstrates love, does it not?  So we ought to display love, as well, and not hide behind laws which reinforce self-righteousness and make excuses for oppressing people and not helping them.   We have a mandate from God to care for others and to love them as we love ourselves.  God has commanded us to care for the vulnerable among us.  We might make excuses for why we fail to do this, but that does not erase our sin in the eyes of God.

One of my favorite deceased people was the actor Andreas Katsulas (1946-2006).  He played the one-armed man in the film version of The Fugitive.  He also portrayed Commander Tomalok on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Ambassador G’Kar on Babylon 5.  Katsulas was a practicing Greek Orthodox and an excellent chef.  Part of his Sunday ritual involved cooking meals for homeless people.  This would have violated the Pharisees’ sabbath codes, but it did demonstrate love.

May we compete with one another in demonstrating love for our fellow human beings everyday of the week.  Let us lay aside tendencies toward one upsmanship, self-righteousness, and public displays of piety meant to make us look good.  May we listen to one another more and more often, and shout at each other less and less often.  May we love one another in attitudes, words, and deeds.  May that be our law.


Is it lawful to perform a good and kind work on the sabbath?  Or, to state the matter another way, is it ever wrong to do something good and kind?  Jesus’ answer is that goodness and kindness are lawful in the eyes of God at all times and all places.  This seems obvious to me, but why was it not obvious to our Lord’s critics in the Gospel reading?

There is much depth and subtlety in the reading from Hebrews.  Part of  it is this:  Jesus is the great high priest because of who he is, not due to his lineage.  Thus he stands apart from human religious establishments, especially priesthoods.  The Gospels tell many stories of Jesus contradicting something one of the religious parties (or a representative thereof) of his time advocated or did.  He stood apart from them.  Many people become quite defensive about religion, and some take this mindset to malicious extremes.

Religion which is inherently self-defensive is negative, and can turn easily against any good soul who just happens to have another opinion.  In the case of these certain Pharisees, they turned against Jesus (truly a good person) and enlisted the help of Herodians, natural rivals.  But the enemy of my enemy is friend, as the old saying goes.  Even if one were not familiar with the Synoptic Gospel narrative, one reading Mark closely should pick up some foreboding hints about the fate of Jesus by now.

These Pharisees were holding onto their traditions and egos, and others be damned.  Jesus be damned, they said, in so many words.  The unfortunate man with a withered hand be damned, they said, in so many words.  The man with a withered hand could not use that hand to hold onto anything, so he had nothing to lose but everything to gain.  These Pharisees, however, had everything to lose.

Jesus taught by his words and his deeds that good works and simple human kindness are always righteous.  Today we have other cultural and legal restrictions against good works and simple human kindness.  Some basic facts never change, only the details, such as names, dates, places, and clauses.  Yet some facts remain constant.  God is love.  God commands us love God fully, and our neighbors as ourselves.  The Golden Rule still applies.  And good deeds and simple acts of kindness are righteous at any time and any place.

I encourage you, O reader, to devote yourself to ever increasing good and kind works for the benefit of others, especially those who will never be able to repay you in any way.  Do this for the others and for God.  And know that, along the way, you will attract criticism, sometimes from people who should know better.  Some things never change, but neither does the divine mandate to love each other.


Week of Proper 5: Friday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Cross and Crown


JUNE 16, 2023


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.


2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (An American Translation):

But I have this treasure in a mere earthen jar, to show that its amazing power belongs to God and not to me.  I am hard pressed on every side, but never cut off; routed, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; never free from the danger of being put to death like Jesus, so that in my body the life of Jesus also may be seen.  For every day I live I am being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so taht the life of Jesus may be visible in my mortal nature.  So it is death that operates in my case, but life that operates in yours.  In the same spirit of faith as his who said,

I believed, and so I spoke,

I too believe, and so I speak, sure that he who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will raise me also like Jesus, and bring me side by side with you into his presence.  For it is all for your benefit, in order that as God’s favor reaches greater and greater numbers, it may result in more and more thanksgiving in praise of God.

Psalm 116:9-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

9 I believed, even when I said,

“I have been brought very low.”

In my distress I said, “No one can be trusted.”

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant;

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.


Matthew 5:27-32 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

You have heard that men were told, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman with desire has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  But if your right eye makes you fall, tear it out and throw it away, for you might better lose one part of your body than have it all thrown into the pit!  If your right hand makes you fall, cut it off and throw it away, for you might better lose one part of your body than have it all go down to the pit!

They were told, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife on any ground, except unfaithfulness, makes her commit adultery, and anyone who marries her after she is divorced commits adultery.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


For my analysis of the Mark reading parallel to this day’s reading from Matthew, visit, which is nearly identical to  For the sake of succintness, I will refrain from repeating most of it in this post.


The readings from 2 Corinthians and Psalms today speak of faith during difficulty.  Indeed, Paul and various psalmists endured much for God, remained faithful through it all, and left indicative writings we can read in translation today.  Paul lived well and safely before his conversion.  Afterward, however, he spent much time on the wrong side of the law and emeshed in controversies with various people.  He could not even write some of the epistles credited to him, for the shackles made that impossible.  Paul had to dicate them instead, and a scribe did the actual writing.  Furthermore, Paul died in 64 C.E., when an employee of the Roman Empire beheaded him.  He died as a criminal.  So did Jesus.  After-the-fact events lend credibility to Paul’s words about suffering for the sake of righteousness:

For every day I live I am being given up  for death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be visible in my mortal nature.

The scandal of the death of Jesus was that the Roman Empire executed him as a criminal, a threat to national security in modern terminology.  (“Threat to national security” allegedly justifies a mulitude of sins, does it not?)  Paul embraced this scandal, making it the centerpiece of his understanding of the gospel.  And the cross, a symbol of empire-sponsored terrorism, became in time the central symbol of Christianity.  Today people were small crosses on jewelry and sport tee-shirts emblazened with crosses.  I wonder if the power of the symbol has weakened when it has become so safe and casual, not that I hope for a martyr’s death or religious persecution.  My point is this:  the cross during the time of Jesus and Paul was like the electric chair or gas chamber today, only public.  It was actually more like the gallows of recent history.  It was neither safe nor casual.

Yet a symbol has only the meanings people assign to it.  A symbol of fear has become one of love and sacrifice.  A borrowed and briefly occupied tomb transformed the cross into a symbol of triumph over the powers of evil.

Love is at the center of the Matthew reading.  I have written in detail on the subject of what Jesus said about divorce already.  This topic has arisen in the Gospel of Mark, too, so, for full comments, I refer you, O reader to follow the links I have placed between the collect and the beginning of my comments.  I must repeat some content, however.

Mosaic law allowed a man to divorce his wife (but not she to divorce him) for undefined faults hinted at as being adultery.  What Moses hinted at Jesus made explicit in Matthew.  As I have written before and will certainly reiterate many more times, a clever legalist can find a way to hide behind the letter of the law, so as to disguise sin as righteousness.  Some men had divorced their wives for excuses as slight as poorly prepared meals.  Moses had required that wives receive written notice of divorce so they could remarry, but divorced women were at great risk of economic exploitation in such a highly patriarchal society long before the rise of feminism.  So Jesus said in essence that women are people to cherish, not objects to throw away on a whim.  That is a timeless lessson.

And we need to be intelligent enough and have such respect for our bodies to recognize the hyperbole in regard to plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand that causes us to sin.  Eyes and hands do not cause us to sin, and Jesus was not advocating mutilating and maiming ourselves; sin originates elsewhere.  The context of these hyperbolic statements indicates that they indicate assocation with sexual arousal and actions pursuant to it.  This is a struggle for many people.  We are wired for sex; without it, the species would cease to exist.  As I continue to ponder the textual context, I conclude that these statements from Matthew 5 are anti-exploitative sex.  Again I return to a previous sentiment:  Women are people to cherish, not objects to use casually.

Temptations are numerous and strong, as are the desires to choose an easier path when sufferings and other hardships for the sake of righteousness began then continue.  Fortunately, grace can empower us to endure, for the glory of God.  If we endure to the end of our journey and remain faithful, returning to God after we stray (as we will from time to time), we will honor God, who knows that we are “but dust.”  I have no patience with moral perfectionism, which is unrealistic, but neither do I excuse having no standards or regard for them.  The Didache, at the end of its discourse on moral living and sinful living, encourages Christians to observe all the elements of a moral life, if possible.  But, if this is not possible, the text says, keep as many as possible.  I propose that nobody can keep all such precepts, but that we need to observe as many as possible.  We need to live knowingly within grace, trusting God to help us do better.  And we can begin by not exploiting one another.