Archive for the ‘Exodus 12’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 12, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Israeli Stamp of David

Image in the Public Domain

Repentance

JULY 26, 2020

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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 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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Exodus 12:1-14 or 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15

Psalm 52

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Mark 6:1-13

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Repentance, as any theologically literate person should,know, is changing one’s mind and turning around.  Repentance does not necessarily negate temporal consequences of sins, however.   We still reap what we sow.  If we sow love rather than evil, we will reap love rather than evil.  We may still suffer for various reasons, ranging from the evil of others to the no cause we can discern, but we will suffer in the company of God, at least.

I choose to focus on a few aspects I noticed in some of the readings.

David was a troublesome character, as the story we began to read about him last week and finished this week made clear.  Yet he accepted the uncomfortable words from the prophet Nathan.  Other kings had yes-men for prophets, but David had Nathan.

One cannot use the imagery of the Jesus as the Passover Lamb to justify Penal Substitutionary Atonement and be intellectually honest.  If one pays attention, one notices that the blood of the original Passover lambs saved the Hebrews from the consequences of Egyptians’ sins, not their sins.

St. Augustine of Hippo, writing about our Lord and Savior’s instructions to his Apostles in Mark 6:6b-13, offered this gem of wisdom:

They ought to walk not in duplicity, but in simplicity.

The Harmony of the Gospels 2.32.75

May we refrain from walking in hypocrisy and duplicity before God and each other.  May we walk in honest piety and simplicity instead.  May we repent of hypocrisy and duplicity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 23, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRIDGET OF SWEDEN, FOUNDRESS OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HIGH SAVIOR; AND HER DAUGHTER, SAINT CATHERINE OF SWEDEN, SUPERIOR OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HIGH SAVIOR

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP EVANS AND JOHN LLOYD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF THEODOR LILEY CLEMENS, ENGLISH MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND COMPOSER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/23/repentance-part-vii/

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Devotion for Friday and Saturday Before Proper 26, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Parable of the Good Samaritan

Above:  Parable of the Good Samaritan

Image in the Public Domain

Treating People Properly

NOVEMBER 2 and 3, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have taught us in your Son that love fulfills the law.

Inspire us to love you with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength,

and teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 19:32-37 (Friday)

Numbers 9:9-14 (Saturday)

Psalm 119:1-8 (Both Days)

Romans 3:21-31 (Friday)

Luke 10:25-37 (Saturday)

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Blessed are those whose way is blameless:

who walk in the law of the Lord.

Blessed are those who keep his commands:

and seek him with their whole heart;

those who do no wrong:

but walk in the ways of our God.

For you, Lord, have commanded us:

to persevere in all your precepts.

If only my ways were unerring:

towards the keeping of your statutes!

Then I should not be ashamed:

when I looked on all your commandments.

I will praise you with sincerity of heart:

as I learn your righteous judgements.

I will keep your statutes:

O forsake me not utterly.

–Psalm 119:1-8, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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How we treat each other matters.  The most effective test of our standards in this field is how we treat vulnerable and marginalized people, such as the elderly, strangers, resident aliens, widows, orphans, and the poor.  The readings from the Torah drive this point home well.  My side reading in the Law of Moses led me to related verses, such as Exodus 22:20 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, 1985):

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

The following verses warn in strong and dire terms against mistreating a widow or an orphan and charging interest on a loan to a poor person.

Yet we human beings know how to create excuses for mistreating each other.  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan alone, ritual purity (in the context of defilement by coming into contact with blood or a corpse), apathy, and fear of robbers hiding nearby are possible reasons for not helping the beaten and bleeding man.  The hero of the parable is an outcast–a Samaritan, to be precise.  His canon was truncated, he was a half-breed, and he did not worship in Jerusalem.  Yet he did what the respectable religious people (in the parable) who worshiped in Jerusalem refused to do.

Exodus 12:43-49 made a big deal about circumcision in relation to the question of who may celebrate the Passover.  In contrast, St. Paul the Apostle, writing in Romans 3:30 and elsewhere, downplayed the issue of circumcision.  It was–and remains–a question of identity, hence its capacity to inspire strong emotions long ago as well as today.  I side with St. Paul, however, for I favor removing barriers to bringing people to God.  If one’s identity depends (even partially) on spiritual elitism, one has a problem.

No, may we welcome the strangers and the marginalized, recognizing the image of God in them.  May we recognize our fellow members of the household of God regardless of any categories we have learned from others and might use to exclude people unjustly.  Who are our Samaritans, people we would be shocked to think of as good?  Our Lord and Savior’s parable challenges us to question our prejudices and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Stern commandments from the Law of Moses also remind us of our responsibilities to strangers and other vulnerable people.  Will we make excuses for disobedience or will we seek to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/treating-people-properly-2/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 13, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Agape Feast

Above:  Agape Feast

Image in the Public Domain

Insensitivity to Human Needs

AUGUST 2, 2018

AUGUST 3, 2018

AUGUST 4, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, eternal goodness, immeasurable love,

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

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

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 12:33-42 (Thursday)

Exodus 12:43-13:2 (Friday)

Exodus 13:3-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 78:23-29 (All Days)

1 Corinthians 11:17-22 (Thursday)

1 Corinthians 11:27-34 (Friday)

Matthew 16:5-12 (Saturday)

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So mortals ate the bread of angels;

he provided for them food enough.

–Psalm 78:25, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Passover meal, from which we Christians derive the Holy Eucharist, originates from the context of divine liberation of slaves from an empire founded upon violence, oppression, and exploitation.  The Passover meal is a communal spiritual exercise, a rite of unity and a reminder of human dependence on God.

The readings from 1 Corinthians 11 refer to abuses of the agape meal, or the love feast, from which the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist evolved.  There was a sacred potluck meal inside house churches.  The idea was that people gave as they were able and received as they had need to do so.  There was enough for everybody to have enough–a spiritual principle of the Kingdom of God–when all went was it was supposed to do.  Unfortunately, in the Corinthian church, some of the wealthy members were eating at home prior to services, thus they chose not to share with less fortunate, who did not have access to enough good meals.  This bad attitude led to the love feast becoming a means of division–especially of class distinctions–not of unity, and therefore of unworthy consumption of the sacrament by some.  Is not becoming drunk at a love feast an example of unworthy consumption?  And is not partaking of the sacrament with a selfish attitude toward one’s fellow church members an example of unworthy consumption?

“The leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6) refers to forms of piety which depend upon wealth, thereby writing off the poor “great unwashed” as less pious and defining the self-proclaimed spiritual elites as supposedly holier.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees, who collaborated with the Roman occupiers, could afford to pay religious fees, but most people in Judea lived a hand-to-mouth existence.  The combination of Roman and local taxes, fees, and tolls was oppressive.  And keeping the purity codes while struggling just to survive was impossible.  Jesus argued against forms of piety which perpetuated artificial inequality and ignored the reality that all people depend entirely on God, rely on each other, and are responsible to and for each other.

To this day teaching that we depend entirely upon God, rely on each other, and are responsible to and for each other will get one in trouble in some churches.  I recall some of the congregations in which I grew up.  I think in particular of conversations between and among parishioners, many of whom considered such ideas too far to the theological and political left for their comfort.  Many of them labored under the illusion of rugged individualism and embraced the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality.  Those ideas, however, were (and remain) inconsistent with the biblical concepts of mutuality and recognition of total dependence upon God.  May we put those idols away and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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Adapted from this post:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/insensitivity-to-human-needs/

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Proper 18, Year A   28 comments

Above: The Israelites Leaving Egypt, by David Roberts (1828)

Image in the Public Domain

Of Sin and Repentance

The Sunday Closest to September 7

The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

SEPTEMBER 6, 2020

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Exodus 12:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:

This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Psalm 149 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker;

let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3 Let them praise his Name in the dance;

let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people

and adorns the poor with victory.

5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;

let them be joyful on their beds.

6 Let the praises of God be in their throat

and a two-edged sword in their hand;

7 To wreak vengeance on the nations

and punishment on the peoples;

8 To bind their kings in chains

and their nobles with links of iron;

9 To inflict on them the judgment decreed;

this is the glory for all his faithful people.

Hallelujah!

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Ezekiel 33:7-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

You, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Psalm 119:33-40 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,

and I shall keep it to the end.

34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law;

I shall keep it with all my heart.

35 Make me go in the path of your commandments,

for that is my desire.

36 Incline my heart to your decrees

and not to unjust gain.

37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless;

give me life in your ways.

38 Fulfill your promise to your servant,

which you make to those who fear you.

39 Turn away the reproach which I dread,

because your judgments are good.

40 Behold, I long for your commandments;

in your righteousness preserve my life.

SECOND READING

Romans 13:8-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments,

You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;

and any other commandment, are summed up in this word,

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 18:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said,

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

The Collect:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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This Sunday’s readings pertain to sin, especially with in a faith community.  The community context is appropriate, for however appealing Western notions of individualism, especially when paired with Horatio Alger-like stories, are, people tend to overestimate them.  In reality, all of us live in community, for what one person does or does not do affects another and others directly and/or indirectly, for good or for ill.  We rise together and we fall together; we need to support each other for the common good.  The economic debacle arising from subprime mortgages has taught many lessons, including that one.

Sometimes we need deliverance from the sins of others.  That was the function of the blood of a Passover lamb in Exodus.  And the reading from Matthew discusses how to handle grievances among members of a faith community.  The offender receives more than one chance to restore peace before facing the penalty, which is ecclesiastical exile.  The common good is the chief end, with attempts to rehabilitate the offending party.

And sometimes the sin is one’s own.  Fortunately, God is present, offering forgiveness in exchange for repentance, that is the act of changing one’s mind, or, to state the matter differently, turning around.  Repentance is far more than apologizing, although nobody ought to underestimate the value of a sincere apology.  No, repentance is active.  And we humans ought to welcome repentance at least as much as God does.

Dare we try it?

KRT

Week of Proper 10: Saturday, Year 1   5 comments

Above:  The Persian Empire Circa 500 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

God is the Hope of All People

JULY 20, 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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Exodus 12:37-42 (An American Translation):

So the Israelites set out from Rameses for Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides the dependents; a great cloud went up with them, as well as very much live stock, both flocks and herds.  With the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, they baked unleavened cakes; for it was not leavened, because they had been driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

The length of time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years; and at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, on that very day all the hosts of the LORD left the land of Egypt.  Since that was a night of vigil on the part of the LORD to bring them out of the land of Egypt; this night must be one of vigil for the LORD on the part of the Israelites throughout their generations.

Psalm 136:1-3, 10-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

2 Give thanks to the God of gods,

for his mercy endures for ever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,

for his mercy endures for ever.

10 Who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,

for his mercy endures for ever;

11 And brought out Israel from among them,

for his mercy endures for ever;

12 With a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm,

for his mercy endures for ever;

13 Who divided the Red Sea in two,

for his mercy endures for ever;

14 And made Israel to pass through the midst of it,

for his mercy endures for ever;

15 But swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea,

for his mercy endures for ever;

16 Who led his people through the wilderness,

for his mercy endures for ever.

Matthew 12:14-21 (An American Translation):

But the Pharisees left the synagogue and consulted about him, with a view to putting him to death.

But Jesus knew of this, and he left that place.  And numbers of people followed him about, and he cured them all, and warned them not to say anything about him–fulfilment of what was said by the prophet Isaiah,

Here is my servant whom I have selected,

My beloved, who delights my heart!

I will endow him with my Spirit,

And he will announce a judgment to the heathen.

He will not wrangle or make an outcry,

And no one will hear his voice in the streets;

He will not break off a bent reed,

And he will not put out a smoldering wick,

Until he carries his judgment to success.

The heathen will rest their hopes on his name!

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The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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God is the hope of all peoples, and the people who worship God (in the Judeo-Christian traditions) are called to be lights to the nations.  This is the deity whose “mercy endures for ever,” to quote Psalm 136.

The reading from Exodus is set immediately prior to the departure from Egypt.  The Canadian Anglican lectionary will cover that event during the Week of Proper 11, so I choose to hold off on certain comments until then.  For today, then, may we focus on the theme of an impending exodus–first from Egypt then from Mesopotamia.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew applies Isaiah 42:1-4 (the First Servant Song) to Jesus.  This text from Deutero-Isaiah is set shortly before the end of the Babylonian Exile and the return of exiles to their ancestral homeland.  This Exodus, like the one from Egypt, is God’s doing via direct actions and human agents.  The theology of much the Hebrew Bible, edited into its final form during the Post-Exilic period, is that the Israelite nations fell from greatness because they disobeyed God by condoning social injustice, practicing polytheism, and refusing to rely on God for strength.  So it makes sense that, prior to a Second Exodus, the Israelite people, identified as the servant of God, receive a charge to be a light to live justly and be a light to the nations.  (Read Isaiah 42:5-9.)

Yet a too-frequent feature of Post-Exilic Judaism was exclusivity.  Chevy Chase, when he was on Saturday Night Live, said

I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not

on the Weekend Update segment.  Likewise, there was a

I’m Jewish, and you’re not

quality about Post-Exilic Judaism.  During the time of Jesus, for example, there were many Gentiles who rejected polytheism and embraced the God of Judaism, but whom the Jewish religious establishment defined as marginal.  These Gentiles were still Gentiles, so there were places in the Jerusalem Temple complex they were not supposed to enter.

Jesus had great appeal to this population, from which came many of the first Christians.

I write these words on the Sixth Day of Christmas, so the thought of light in the darkness, applied to Jesus, is very much on my mind.  And I am exactly one week away from the Feast of the Epiphany, which is all about taking the news of the gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles.  This thought comforts me, for I am a Gentile.

Christianity, an offshoot of Judaism, is an overwhelmingly Gentile faith system, of course.  But we have our own metaphorical Gentiles, those we keep at the margins.  Our criteria vary, ranging from socio-economic status to sexual orientation.  But Jesus lived, died, and rose again for these people, too.  And, before that, God loved all the insiders and outsiders, as we humans define them.  May we learn an essential lesson:  That our definition of “insider” is much narrower than God’s.  Then may we act accordingly.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/god-is-the-hope-of-all-people/

Week of Proper 10: Friday, Year 1   17 comments

Above: A Flock of Sheep

Image in the Public Domain

A Perfect Sacrifice

JULY 19, 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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Exodus 11:10-12:14 (An American Translation):

So Moses and Aaron performed all these portents before Pharaoh; but the LORD made Pharaoh stubborn, so that he would not let the Israelites leave his land.

Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,

This month shall be the first of the months for you; it shall be the first month of the year for you,’ announce to the whole community of Israel; ‘on the tenth day of this month they must provide for themselves one sheep each for their several families, a sheep for each household; if any household is too small for a sheep, it shall provide one along with its neighbor who is nearest to its own household in the number of persons, charging each for the proportionate amount of the sheep that it ate.  Your sheep must be a perfect male, a year old; you may take one of the lambs or goats.  You must keep it until the fourteenth day of this same month, and then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter it at twilight, and taking some of the blood, they must apply it to the two door-posts and the lintels for the sake of the houses in which they eat it.  That same night they must eat the flesh, eating it roasted, along with unleavened cakes and bitter herbs; do not eat any of it raw, nor cooked in any way with water, but roasted, its head along with its legs and entrails; and you must not leave any of it over until morning; any that might be left over until morning you must burn up.  This is how you are to eat it:  with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; you must eat it in trepidation, since it is a passover to the LORD.  This very night I will pass through the land of Egypt, striking down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt, I, the LORD.  The blood will serve as a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood, I will pass by you, so that no deadly plague will fall on you when I smite the land of Egypt.  This day shall be a memorial for you; so you must keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you must keep it as a perpetual ordinance….

Psalm 116:10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

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.

Hallelujah!

Matthew 12:1-8 (An American Translation):

At that same time Jesus walked through the wheat fields, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of wheat and eat them.  But the Pharisees saw it and said to him,

Look!  Your disciples are doing something which it is against the Law to do on the Sabbath!

But he said to them,

Did you ever read what David did, when he and his companions were hungry?  How is it that he went into the House of God and that they ate the Presentation Loaves which it is against the Law for him and his companions to eat, or for anyone except the priests?  Or did you ever read in the Law how the priests in the Temple are not guilty when they break the Sabbath?  But I tell you, there is something greater than  the Temple here!  But if you knew what the saying means,”‘It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for,” you would not have condemned  men who are not guilty.  For the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath.

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The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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What is a perfect sacrifice?  This question hinges on the word “perfect.”  In the Biblical context it means “suitable for its purpose.”  This is how Matthew 5:48 can quote Jesus as saying,

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect  (New Revised Standard Version).

Our story in Exodus jumps a few chapters from the burning bush incident to the latter stage of the plagues in Egypt.  The blood of a perfect sacrificial lamb smeared on one ‘s doorpost will be the sign of being spared from the death of the first-born.  The blood of the lamb will spare one from the sins of others-namely the Egyptian leadership, not oneself.  This is a vital point to understand, for to make the analogy of Jesus as Passover Lamb cannot support Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the idea that the blood of Jesus saves us from our sins.  No, the Atonement works differently, and blood is involved in it in a way I do not pretend to comprehend.  At St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, when I hold a chalice of wine and say

The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,

I mean it.  Whenever I say this to one particular gentleman, he says, “Thank God.”  That is an appropriate response.

I write these words on December 29, 2010.  Due to the fact that December 26 was the First Sunday after Christmas, the major feasts (St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents) have transferred by one day, falling like dominoes.  So December 29 (not the 28th) is the date for the Feast of the Holy Innocents in 2010.  This commemoration causes me to wonder why there was not passover blood for those little boys.  I have no easy answers.

So the Israelites are spared, but what about the Egyptians?  Are not their lives just as valuable?  I am not shy about arguing with the Biblical texts, for I engage them, not worship them.  The Bible is the most ubiquitous idol within Christianity.  This is not its purpose, but that is what well-intentioned people have made it.

Speaking of accidental idolaters, let us turn to the Pharisees.

Consider this verse:

When you enter another man’s field of standing grain, you may pluck ears with your hand; but you must not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain.

–Deuteronomy 23:26 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

And, of course, there is Hosea 6:6, also from TANAKH:

For I desire goodness, not sacrifice;

Obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings.

The reference to David comes from 1 Samuel 21:1-6, set during a time when David was on the run from King Saul.  David and his men were hungry, so, with the aid of a priest, Ahimelech, eat the only bread available–consecrated loaves reserved for priests.

Consider the context in Matthew.  Jesus has just completed his “Come to me, all who are heavy-laden” invitation. The day is the Sabbath, and his disciples are hungry.  They obey Deuteronomy 23:26 by reaping with with their hands.  Religious legal codes subsequent to Deuteronomy 23:26 forbade reaping on the Sabbath, and the disciples had violated this law.  Jesus replies by referring to David, whom the Pharisees revered, and to the fact that professional religious people worked at the Temple on the Sabbath legally.  So why is satisfying the basic human need to eat considered improper?

The verses following incident immediately tell of Jesus healing on the Sabbath.  He has to defend himself from criticism then, too.

William Barclay offers the most succinct analysis of the moral of these stories:

The claims of human need took precedence over any ritual custom.  (The Gospel of Matthew, Volume, 2, Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, page 23)

A previous owner of my copy wrote the following comment in the margin:

People more imp. than things!

Indeed, people are more important than things and ritual customs, and goodness and mercy are more valuable than sacrifices and legalistic proscriptions.  To quote Barclay again, this time from page 25:

Jesus insisted that the greatest ritual service is the service of human need.

This statement is so obvious to me that I stand in dismay at someone having to argue for it.  This should be a given, something people assume and to which they stipulate and then act upon.

So the service of human needs is the perfect sacrifice to God.  May we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this concept and act accordingly, as our circumstances dictate the particulars.

But lest we pat ourselves on the back and cast historical stones at the Pharisees, we need to examine ourselves spiritually.  The late Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr., a U.S. Presbyterian theologian, offered the following in the first edition of Christian Doctrine:  Teachings of the Christian Church (Richmond, VA:  CLC Press, 1968, pages 247-248):

One danger of the sacrificial imagery is that the significance of Christ’s work can easily be corrupted in the same way the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was corrupted.  It easily becomes a kind of bargaining with God.  A sacrifice has been offered to satisfy his demands and appease him–so now we are free go go on being and doing anything we like without interference from him.  How did the prophets protest against such a perversion of the sacrificial system?  See Isaiah 1:10-31; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8.  Is the prophetic protest against the misuse of sacrifices relevant also to our understanding of the sacrifice of Christ?  Would the prophets allow the split we sometimes make between preaching concerned with social action and preaching concerned with salvation from sin?

Think about it.  Pray about it.  Learn what God teaches, and act accordingly.

KRT

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