Archive for the ‘Mark 2’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 4, Year B (Humes)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew, by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Image in the Public Domain

The Power of Words

NOT OBSERVED IN 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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Job 11:7-20 or Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Psalm 43

James 3:1-13

Mark 2:13-28

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Words matter.  They can inflict pain, even when one imagines oneself to be acting righteously, as in the case of Zophar the Naamathite, who proceeded from a false assumption while lecturing Job on repentance.  Words can call others to discipleship.  Words can remind one  of the divine mandate on individuals and societies to care for the less fortunate.  Words can reach the throne of God.

Words can create justice or injustice; they make the future.  May we, being mindful of the power of words, trust in God and strive to use these tools for the common good and the glory of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 16, 2019 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF GEORGE BERKELEY, IRISH ANGLICAN BISHOP AND PHILOSOPHER; AND JOSEPH BUTLER, ANGLICAN BISHOP AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHN FRANCIS REGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NORMAN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS COUSIN, JOHN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RUFUS JONES, U.S. QUAKER THEOLOGIAN AND COFOUNDER OF THE AMERICAN FRIENDS SERVICE COMMITTEE

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Originally published at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS

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Devotion for Proper 3, Year B (Humes)   Leave a comment

Above:  Job and His Alleged Friends

Image in the Public Domain

The Idol of Certainty

NOT OBSERVED IN 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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Job 8:8-22 or Deuteronomy 11:18-28

Psalm 42

James 2:18-26

Mark 2:1-12

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In the perfect moral universe of Bildad the Shuhite and those who think like him, piety is a shield against misfortune.  This is an attitude present in parts of the Book of Psalms.  That book also contradicts the attitude, however, for certain psalms acknowledge that innocent people suffer.

Jesus, without ignoring that the suffering of many resulted partially from their sins, did not state that all human suffering resulted from the sins of the suffering.  His sinless life testified to a different reality, that sometimes we suffer because of the sins of others, and piety sometimes leads to persecution and/or death.

Certainty can become an idol, as in the cases of Bildad (Job 8) and the accusers of Jesus (Mark 2).  Idols abound; certainty is one of the most popular ones.  I refer to false, misplaced certainty, not to confirmed knowledge, such as 2 + 2 = 4.  No, I refer to certainty that fills voids meant for faith in God.  The human psyche craves certainty.  Unfortunately, false certainty leads to conspiracy theories, to other denial of reality, and to idolatry.  In reality, what we do not know outweighs what we do know, and humility is in order; certainty be damned much of the time.

May we walk the path of faith in Christ without ignoring that of which we can objectively be certain.  May God grant us the wisdom to recognize the difference between matters in which we need faith and those in which we can reasonably have certainty.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Originally published at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS

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Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 6, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Hezekiah

Above:  Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

The Law of Moses, Faith, Works, and Justification

JUNE 17, 2019

JUNE 18, 2019

JUNE 19, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, throughout the ages you judge your people with mercy,

and you inspire us to speak your truth.

By your Spirit, anoint us for lives of faith and service,

and bring all people into your forgiveness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 29:1-19 (Monday)

2 Chronicles 30:1-12 (Tuesday)

2 Chronicles 30:13-27 (Wednesday)

Psalm 130 (All Days)

Galatians 3:1-9 (Monday)

Galatians 3:10-14 (Tuesday)

Mark 2:1-12 (Wednesday)

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For with Yahweh is faithful love,

with him generous ransom;

and he will ransom Israel

from all its sins.

–Psalm 130:7b-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The Law of Moses receives positive treatment in 2 Chronicles 29 and 30.  Keeping it is an outward sign of devotion to God in the narrative from the reign of King Hezekiah.  After all, the theology of the Babylonian Exile is that it resulted from widespread and persistent disregard for the Law of Moses, especially those regarding idolatry and social injustice, especially economic exploitation and judicial corruption.

What are we to make, then, of St. Paul the Apostle’s attitude toward the Law of Moses?  The immediate context of Galatians 3 was the question of the relationship between faith and works with regard to justification with God.  St. Paul argued that justification with God occurs via faith alone, faith being inherently active; faith and works were, in the Apostle’s mind, a package deal.  He cited the example of Abraham, whose faith God reckoned as righteousness.  The author of the Letter of James cited that example also, but to argue that

a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 3:24, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

For the author of James faith was intellectual and not inherently active, so the pairing of faith and works was crucial.  The men agreed that active faith was essential.

Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  He engaged in disputes with religious officials whose legalism amplified certain aspects of the Law of Moses while ignoring the mandate to practice mercy, also part of the law.  Our Lord and Savior argued that certain religious leaders taught the Law of Moses wrongly, not that the law was invalid.  The law, ideally, was something that would become part of one, that one would keep it in principle, bearing in mind that some parts of it were culturally specific examples, and not becoming bogged down in them.  It was something one was supposed to keep as a matter of reverence and gratitude, not legalism.  Perhaps St. Paul was objecting more to legalism than to the Law of Moses itself.  He was, after all, engaged in a dispute with Judaizers, who insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity (then a Jewish sect) became Jews first.  The context of argument contributed to taking an opposite position, not seeking a moderate position.

Jesus agreed with Rabbi Hillel, who summarized the Torah as loving God with all of one’s being.  Hillel continued,

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Much of that commentary consists of instructions (many of them culturally specific) about how to care for the vulnerable people in our midst.  May we Gentiles follow the lead of our Jewish brethren and ask ourselves how to apply those laws in our contexts.  Then may we live according to the divine mandate to love God fully and each other as we love ourselves.  May we do this out of reverence and gratitude, as an expression of faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL CUFFEE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO THE SHINNECOCK NATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT CASIMIR OF POLAND, PRINCE

THE FEAST OF EMANUEL CRONENWETT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARINUS OF CAESAREA, ROMAN SOLDIER AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR, AND ASTERIUS, ROMAN SENATOR AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/the-law-of-moses-faith-works-and-justification/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 4, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Showbread

Above:  Priests Replacing the Showbread

Image in the Public Domain

Compassion and Identity

JUNE 6, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

throughout time you free the oppressed,

heal the sick,

and make whole all that you have made.

Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin,

and by your power restore us to wholeness of life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 21:1-6

Psalm 78:1-4, 52-72

John 5:1-18

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Yet still they tested God Most High and rebelled against him,

and would not keep his commandments.

–Psalm 78:56, Common Worship (2000)

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Falling into legalism is at least as bad as having disregard for divine law.  Both errors arrive at the same destination:  missing the mark, which is the definition of sin.

One must, if one is to be thorough, read the Gospel of John in the context of its composition:  rising tensions between Jews and Christians.  Many of the latter category were also Jews, but they had become marginalized within Judaism.  Thus invective infected the text of the Johannine Gospel.  The “scribes and Pharisees” of the Synoptic Gospels became “the Jews.”  Jews were labeling other Jews “the Jews.”

That does not mean, however, that the Johannine Gospel contains no history.  We ought, however, to read it with an awareness and understanding of the filters.

The story in John 5:1-18, as we have received it, is one of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, identifying God as his (Jesus’s) father, and contending with plots because of these actions and words.  According to the Law of Moses, the penalty for profaning the Sabbath is death, as is the punishment for committing blasphemy.  These were the charges against our Lord and Savior in the story.  The man Jesus healed even had to contend with charges of carrying his mat on the Sabbath (John 5:10).  He got off, though, for accusers found a “juicier” target.

Legalism–born out of respect for divine commandments–is misguided because it transforms the laws into idols.  A legalist is so lost among the proverbial trees that he or she cannot contextualize them within the forest.  Often attitudes and actions lacking compassion flow from legalism, as in the pericope from John 5.  Was joy that a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years was now able-bodied too much to muster?

Part of the socio-economic-political context of the story is the central role of Sabbath keeping in defining Jewish community, especially while living under Roman occupation.  Indeed, the importance of keeping the Sabbath as a way of setting the Hebrew community apart from its neighbors and its recent plight in slavery in Egypt forms part of the background of the Sabbath laws in Exodus 31:12-18.  I am not a rugged individualist, for I affirm that we humans depend entirely on God and rely upon each other and each other’s labor.  Others assembled the car I drive and paved the roads I paved the roads I travel on the way to work, for example.  A community focus in society can be positive, for we are all responsible to and for each other.  But community ought never to crush an individual.

Our Lord and Savior did more than heal on the Sabbath.  He and his twelve Apostles, for example, also gleaned food from fields, for they were hungry.  Some people criticized them for doing that too.  Jesus, in Matthew 12:3-4, Mark 2:25-26, and Luke 6:3-4, cited the precedent of David in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.  David, then fighting a civil war against King Saul, was hungry one day.  He acquired food by lying (claiming to be on a secret mission for Saul) to a priest, who gave him the Bread of the Presence, which only priests were supposed to eat.  To consume that bread was to commune with God, according to theology at the time.  The author of that story did not condemn David, but Saul condemned the priest to death for aiding an enemy.

Our Lord and Savior’s purpose in citing that precedent was to say that breaking ritual law in a time of need is permissible.  If saving a life, according to that standard, how is healing a man paralyzed for 38 years beyond the pale?  And how does anyone have so little compassion (if any) as to complain about the day of the week on which someone commits a good deed?

Identity matters a great deal, but compassion is more important.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLATO OF SYMBOLEON AND THEODORE STUDITES, EASTERN ORTHODOX ABBOTS; AND SAINT NICEPHORUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELDRAD, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RODERIC OF CABRA AND SOLOMON OF CORDOBA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/compassion-and-identity/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 23, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti

Above:  The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Titus, A.D. 70, by David Roberts

Image in the Public Domain

Apocalypses

OCTOBER 10, 2020

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The Collect:

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples

and poured out your life with abundance.

Call us again to your banquet.

Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure,

and transform us into a people or righteousness and peace,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 24:17-23

Psalm 23

Mark 2:18-22

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Psalm 23 presents a pristine, pleasant picture of verdant pastures, safety in God, and an overflowing cup.  That is the opposite of Isaiah 24, in which God pronounced judgment on the sinful Earth.  Leading up to that chapter we read of divine judgment on various nations (including the Kingdom of Judah) and a condemnation of official corruption.  Divine redemption of Judah and human thanksgiving for God’s deliverance of the people from oppression follow Isaiah 24 immediately.  Destruction of the wicked order makes room for the new world of righteousness.

I detect an apocalyptic note in Mark 2:18-22 also.  The disciples of Jesus will not fast until

the bridegroom is taken away from them

–2:20a, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985).

The canonical Gospels contain openly apocalyptic sections, especially in proximity to the Passion of Jesus.  That seems appropriate, given the nature of crucifixion and the Roman imperial use of violence.

I have noticed two unhelpful extremes in theology and Bible-based art.   One is fixating on the pleasant, so that Jesus usually smiles, for example.  The other is to focus on doom, gloom, destruction, and judgment.  Both contain true elements, of course, but the error is fixating on one extreme so as to deny or minimize its opposite.  So, avoid extremism, I note that the rescue of people from oppressors is good news for the oppressed and bad news for the oppressors and their allies.  May none of us be like those who mourn the fall of Babylon in Revelation 18.

Sometimes we mere mortals find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, so we suffer and lament.

Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!

–Mark 13:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That is the unfortunate reality of many people in parts of the world, is it not?  Yet we humans may hope for a better time.  We might even function as partners with God to improve circumstances.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN BUNYAN, PROTESTANT SPIRITUAL WRITER

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

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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

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

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.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

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.”

SECOND READING

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.

GOSPEL READING

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.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 4, Year A:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/proper-4-year-a/

1 Samuel 3:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/week-of-1-epiphany-wednesday-year-2/

Exodus 29 (Parallel to Deuteronomy 5):

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/week-of-proper-11-friday-year-1/

2 Corinthians 3:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/week-of-proper-5-wednesday-year-1/

Mark 2-3:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/week-of-2-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/week-of-2-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

Matthew 12 (Parallel to Mark 2-3):

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/week-of-proper-10-friday-year-1/

Luke 6 (Parallel to Mark 2-3):

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/week-of-proper-17-saturday-year-1/

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/week-of-proper-18-monday-year-1/

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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.

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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.

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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.

KRT

Proper 3, Year B   7 comments

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew, by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Sit Down and Eat

The Sunday Closest to May 25

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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Hosea 2:14-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

Therefore, I will now allure her,

and bring her into the wilderness,

and speak tenderly to her.

From there I will give her her vineyards,

and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

There she shall respond as in the days of her youth,

as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

On that day, says the LORD, you will call me,

My husband,

and no longer will you call me,

My Baal.

For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more.  I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.  And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.  I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD.

Psalm 103:1-13, 22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

3 He forgives all your sins,

and heals all your infirmities;

4 He redeems your life from the grave

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness.

5 He satisfies you with good things,

and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

The LORD executes righteousness

and judgment for all who are oppressed.

7 He made his ways known to Moses

and all his works to the children of Israel.

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

He will not always accuse us,

nor will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

11 For as the heavens are as high above the earth,

so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our sins from us.

13 As a father cares for his children,

so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

22  Bless the LORD, all you works of his,

in all places of his dominion;

bless the LORD, O my soul.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version):

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we?  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Mark 2:13-22 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them.  As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him,

Follow me.

And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples–for there were many who followed him.  When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples,

Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?

When Jesus heard this, he said to them,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him,

Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?

Jesus said to them,

The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 3, Year A:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/proper-3-year-a/

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b/

Mark 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/week-of-1-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/week-of-2-epiphany-monday-year-1/

Matthew 9 (Parallel to Mark 2):

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/week-of-proper-8-saturday-year-1/

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/week-of-proper-8-friday-year-1/

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/proper-5-year-a/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/third-day-of-lent/

Luke 5 (Parallel to Mark 2):

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/fourth-day-of-lent/

2 Corinthians 3:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/week-of-proper-5-wednesday-year-1/

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The passage from Hosea occurs in the context of a condemnation of national idolatry and the pronouncement of punishment for it.  Monotheism did not come easily or quickly to the Hebrews of the Old Testament.  In fact, pagan fertility cults held much appeal.  With that in mind, note, O reader, the references to fertility that YHWH promises to give in the context of divine graciousness.  There is even the likening of a relationship with God to a marriage.  ”You have sinned,” God says, “and I will discipline you accordingly.  Then I will show mercy on you.”

Speaking of mercy, Jesus ate with notorious sinners, including literal tax thieves.  He even called one of them to join his inner circle.   This extraordinary gesture of grace, of acting based on the potential of person’s future, reflected the Spirit, which gives life.  Scribes, of course, objected vocally, but Jesus argued well against their case.  He would have welcomed them at the table, too, if they had sat down.

The difference between the scribes and the notorious sinners was that the latter recognized their need for grace.  Already being outcasts, they had no prestige to lose.  Too often we human beings cling tenaciously to poor substitutes for God.  These might be deities from competing religions.  Or they might be money or possessions or social status or some combination of these.  None of them fills the God-shaped hole, however.

May we lay our pretenses aside and sit down with Jesus.

KRT

Published in a nearly identical form as Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B, at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on July 4, 2011