Archive for the ‘Deuteronomy 5’ Tag

Devotion for the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  A Vineyard

Image in the Public Domain

Individual and Collective Responsibility

OCTOBER 8, 2023


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


Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Psalm 25:1-9 (LBW) or Psalm 27:1-10 (LW)

Philippians 2:1-5 (6-11)

Matthew 21:28-32


God of love, you know our frailties and failings. 

Give us your grace to overcome them;

keep us from those things that harm us;

and guide us in the way of salvation;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 28


O God, the Strength of all who put their trust in you;

mercifully accept our prayer,

and because through the weakness of our mortal nature

we can do no good thing without your aid,

grant us the help of your grace that,

keeping your commandments,

we may please you in both will and deed;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 83


Ezekiel 18 is one of the texts (along with Ezekiel 3:16-21; 14:12-23; 33:30, beyond others outside Ezekiel) that teach individual responsibility before God, therefore divine reward and punishment for how one has acted.  These texts contradict Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9, which teach intergenerational reward and punishment.

The theme of collective responsibility occurs in the readings from Philippians and Matthew.  This theme and individual responsibility before God are mutually consistent.

A man had two sons.

–Matthew 21:28, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

A careful reader of the Hebrew Bible should read or hear those words and think,


Such a person will start with Cain and Abel then take the grand tour of stories of feuding brothers in the Hebrew Bible.

Deeds matter more than intentions.  Deeds reveal creeds.  Rather than condemn some long-dead Pharisees and feel spiritually smug, I acknowledge an uncomfortable truth.  I admit that I, as one of the churchiest people alive, have more in common with the Pharisees than not.  I confess to uncertainty whether, had I been a Palestinian Jew during the time of Christ, I would have followed him.  The parable, transferred to contemporary times, confronts me.

Clarence Jordan (1912-1969), in his Cotton Patch Version of Matthew, set the parable in a peach orchard.  Jesus decreed tat

the hippies and the whores

would take precedence in that version.

If you, O reader, were to update Matthew 21:31, which group would you substitute for tax collectors? Make it a shocking, scandalous reference.

The Parable of the Two Sons warns against spiritual complacency.  The textual context of the parable is early in the week of Passover, shortly prior to the crucifixion of Jesus.  This setting helps to explain why the tone is so intense.  Anyway, warnings against spiritual complacency–whether individual or collective–may need to be intense to attract our attention sometimes.

In the 1990s, I read an editorial in U.S. Catholic magazine.  The title was,

Get Off Your Values and Get to Work.

The point was that people should minimize statements of principles and maximize living those principles.  This cogent lesson remains relevant sadly.  Politicians who have the power to act constructively after a preventable mass shooting or other unfortunate event yet content themselves to offer “thoughts and prayers” engage in copping out.  I recall a lesson my father taught me:  we need to put feet to our prayers.

That is hard work.  So be it.









Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


Devotion for Proper 22, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Effects of Acid Rain on a Forest in the Czech Republic, 2006

Photographer = Lovecz

The Sins of the Fathers

OCTOBER 4, 2020


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 34:1-10 or 1 Kings 22:29-43

Psalm 62:1-8, 11-12

Hebrews 5:12-6:12

Mark 9:30-37


The key mark of discipleship is servanthood.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394)


Some themes recur in the readings for this week:

  1. God is faithful.
  2. Trust in God.
  3. Do not commit apostasy.
  4. People reap what they sow.
  5. Christ is the exemplar of the type of service that defines greatness.

Exodus 34:7 requires unpacking.  The principle that God punishes or forgives members of subsequent generations based on the sins of an ancestor exists also in 1 Kings 21:29, Nehemiah 9:17, Deuteronomy 5:9, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2.  Yet we read the opposite view–individual moral responsibility–in Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31:29-30.  The Bible contradicts itself sometimes.

The best explanation for the opinion we read in Exodus 34:7 comes from Professor Richard Elliot Friedman:  effects of one’s actions are apparent generations later.  I recognize ways in which actions of two of my paternal great-grandfathers influence me indirectly.  This is one example of something, that, from a certain point of view, looks like intergenerational punishment and reward by God.

The decisions of others influence us.  Some of them even restrict our options.  We may suffer because of the decisions of those who have preceded us; we may suffer because of their sins.  This is the way of the world.  Yet we are morally responsible for ourselves and each other, not those who have died.  No, they are responsible for their sins, just as we are responsible for ours.

May we–individually and collectively–refrain from visiting the consequences of our sins on those who will succeed us.  We owe them that much, do we not?






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

Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise Gustave Dore

Above:  Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Rest in God

OCTOBER 7 and 8, 2021


The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith,

that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead,

we may follow the way of your commandments

and receive the crown of everlasting joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50


The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 5:1-21 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 5:22-33 (Friday)

Psalm 90:12-17 (Both Days)

Hebrews 3:17-19 (Thursday)

Hebrews 4:1-11 (Friday)


FYI:  Those of you who compare and contrast versification in translations of the Bible might notice that Deuteronomy 5:1-30 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox versions equals 5:1-33 in Protestant translations.


So teach us to number our days

that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

–Psalm 90:12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


Trust and obedience to God undergird the readings for these two days.

Deuteronomy 5, which contains the Ten Commandments, concludes with these words:

Be careful, then, to do as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Do not turn aside to the right or to the left:  follow only the path that the LORD your God has enjoined upon you, so that you may thrive and that it may go well with you and that you may long endure in the land you are to possess.

–Verses 29-30, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

One had to arrive first, however.  In Numbers 14, after spies had returned from their mission to Canaan, fear and faithlessness spread through the population.

I the LORD have spoken:  Thus will I do to all that wicked band that has banded together against Me:  in this very wilderness they shall die to the last man.

–Numbers 14:35, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who assumed that David had written Psalm 95, referred to that text:

Forty years I was provoked by that generation;

I thought, “They are a senseless people;

they would not know my ways.”

Concerning them I swore in anger,

“They shall never come to my resting-place!”

–Verses 10-11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Promised Land is the resting-place in Psalm 95, as is one meaning of the Greek word katapausis in the readings from Hebrews.  There are two words for “rest” in them; the other refers to sabbath rest.  Katapausis has two other meanings in the Letter to the Hebrews:

  1. The rest God took after the sixth day of creation; this definition has eschatological overtones; and
  2. The peace of God.

The latter is the ultimate meaning of katapausis in the readings from Hebrews.  Entrance into the peace of God requires trust and obedience.

But what does that mean in practical terms?  Many voices compete to answer that question.  Many of them horrify me.  Those, for example, who argue that fidelity to God requires mutilating offenders and killing heretics and unbelievers appall me.  (Some of those sources quote the Bible word-for-word while ignoring inconvenient passages.)  Those who justify their violence by placing a false stamp of divine approval on it offend me.  I do not pretend to know the mind of God, for I affirm the mystery of the divine.  Yet I state clearly that one can, by considering the example of Jesus, learn much about the requirements for being a Christian.  Loving one’s neighbors as one loves oneself (presuming, of course, that one loves oneself) is part of obeying God, I affirm.

The author of Hebrews referred to Joshua, son of Nun, in 4:8.  May we who call ourselves Christians follow our Joshua–Jesus–into the peace of God.  May we lay aside the fear which leads to disobedience to and lack of trust in God.  May we, by grace, come into that divine rest and lead others to it.









Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 18, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Diagram of a U-Turn

Image Source = Smurrayinchester

Godly Imagination



The Collect:

O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy.

Without your help, we mortals will fail;

remove far from us everything that is harmful,

and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46


The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 33:1-6

Psalm 119:33-40

Matthew 23:29-36


The route of transformation–a process which God initiates–is that of turning around.  Ezekiel 33, the beginning of which is an assigned reading for today, makes those two points clearly.  It also states, contrary either to Exodus 34:7 and Deuteronomy 5:9-10 or to interpretations thereof, that individuals are responsible only for their sins; they carry no responsibility for the sins of any of their ancestors.

Regardless of how nice we think we are, we are complicit in sins of society because of our roles in societal institutions.  Our hands might not be as clean as we imagine because others do our dirty work while we are either oblivious or we approve.  I think of that reality when I read Jesus from Matthew 23:36:

Truly I tell you:  this generation will bear the guilt of it all.

The Revised English Bible, 1989

To repent is to turn around and to change one’s mind.  Changing one’s mind is crucial and difficult, for we become accustomed to ways of being and thinking; we are creatures of habit.  I am convinced that more sin flows from lack of imagination than from cartoonish, mustache-twirling perfidy.  Yes, there are malicious people who seek out opportunities to harm others each day, but more negativity results from functional fixedness.  Those of us who are not malicious might not even be able at certain moments to imagine that what God has said ought be (A) is what God has said ought to be or (B) can come to pass, at least any time soon.  Our lack of imagination condemns us and injures others.

How might the world be a better place for more people if more of us had a more highly developed imagination in tune with God?  Many of us, in the words of Psalm 119:35 (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979), pray:

Make me go in the path of your commandments,

for that is my desire.

How many of us, however, have the imagination to recognize that route?  May we see then follow it to the end, by grace and free will, itself a result of grace.





Bloga Theologica version


Devotion for October 6 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments


Above:  Jesus Healing a Paralytic, by Bernhard Rode

Image in the Public Domain

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part VIII:  False Notions of Holiness

OCTOBER 6, 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:

Deuteronomy 5:22-6:9

Psalm 103 (Morning)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening)

Matthew 9:1-17


Deuteronomy 5:22-6:9 is a generally positive lection with a dark cloud hanging over it.  We readers know (or at least we should know) that the good intentions will not last long and that the consequences will be dire and predictable.

I suppose that our Lord and Savior’s critics thought that they were on the side of righteousness and that Jesus was not.  Perhaps they thought of the consequences of collective apostasy and in the Hebrew Bible.  Maybe they feared that Jesus was leading people astray.  They were wrong, of course, for they represented a corrupt religious system.  And Jesus, with his authority, challenged theirs.  He also challenged basic assumptions regarding fasting, table fellowship, ritual purity, and the cause of the paralyzed man’s suffering.  He redefined holiness to be more inclusive than exclusive, drawing people into the big tent rather than consigning large populations to the category of the hopelessly lost.

It is easy and frequently tempting to define one’s self as belonging to an elite club of holy people.  To do so is certainly ego-reinforcing. Yet it is a trap for one’s self and a careless disregard for others who bear the image of God.

So I challenge you, O reader, to ask yourself some questions.  Who are the people you blame unjustly for their problems?  Who are the people you exclude unjustly?  Who are the people from whom you keep a distance so that they will not “contaminate” you by their presence?  I ask myself the same questions about how I think of and act toward others.  Yes, we will not get along with all people; that is a morally neutral fact of life.  And we will have little in common with many individuals.  But we must not assume that anyone is hopelessly lost to God.






Devotion for October 5 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part VII:  Loyalty and Discipleship

OCTOBER 5, 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:

Deuteronomy 5:1-21

Psalm 61 (Morning)

Psalms 138 and 98 (Evening)

Matthew 8:18-34


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

before the gods will I sing praise to you.

I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name,

because of your love and faithfulness;

for you have glorified your name and your word above all things.

In the day I called to you, you answered me;

you put new strength in my soul.

–Psalm 138:1-3 (The Book of Common Prayer, 2004)


I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart:

before the gods I will sing your praises.

I will bow down toward your holy temple,

and give thanks because of your love and faithfulness:

for you have exalted your name and your word above all things.

On the day I called, you answered me:

and put new strength within me.

–Psalm 138:1-3 (A New Zealand Prayer Book, 1989)


You shall not have other gods before my face.

–Deuteronomy 5:7 (Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah)


Scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures argue whether Deuteronomy 5:7 and its counterpart, Exodus 20:3, are monotheistic statements.  Does the command mean to worship only YHWH yet to acknowledge the existence of other deities?  Or does it mean that one should worship only YHWH because there is only YHWH?  In other words, is it monotheistic (as Richard Elliott Friedman insists) or monolatric (as The Jewish Study Bible and The New Interpreter’s Study Bible argue).  The Bible is an anthology of texts from various periods and perspectives, so if it did indicated monolatry (my historical position) could it not mean monotheism now?  The widespread practice of monotheism did come relatively late (about 25,000 years ago) to the Hebrew people.  The theology existed long before that, of course, but the widespread practice, as the texts of the Hebrew Bible attest, came fairly late.

Psalm 138 seems to be the work of an Israelite (perhaps King David) present where people worship heathen deities.  He affirms his loyalty to YHWH.

Jesus, in Matthew 8:18-34, performs mighty acts and demands total loyalty.  He did have a house at Capernaum, but frequently lacked a place to lay his head; he did travel often.

There is only one deity, the one I know as God, YHWH, Adonai, etc.  Human theology on that topic has changed yet the reality has remained constant.  And Christian discipleship is following Jesus, not just affirming his ethics.  The demand from YHWH in Deuteronomy 5 and from Jesus in Matthew 8 is the same:  follow me.  That is a call to do something active.  May we obey it.  And, if we have begun to do so, may we remain on that spiritual path.






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.