Archive for the ‘Matthew 18’ Tag

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

Above:  Joseph Reveals His Identity, by Peter von Cornelius

Image in the Public Domain

Inclusion and Exclusion

OCTOBER 8, 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 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


Genesis 45 or Isaiah 56:1-8

Psalm 31:9-18

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Matthew 18:15-35


Dealing with people can be difficult for various reasons, not the least of which is that some people are difficult.  Many are toxic, emotionally and spiritually.

Consider the family of Jacob, O reader.  The happy turn of events does not negate the perfidy of previous chapters.  Do you not, O reader, know that eventually Jacob confronted those sons of his who had told him years prior that Joseph was dead?  That is not a conversation recorded in Genesis.

Yet forgiveness carried the day.  And why not?  How often have we prayed to God for forgiveness and not been forgiving, of others or ourselves?  The hyperbolic debt of 10,000 talents (150,000 years’ worth of wages for a laborer) was impossible to repay.  Those who have received forgiveness have always incurred the obligation to forgive.  Forgiving others and self has always been the best policy for another reason also; grudges have always hurt those who have nurtured them.

God, in Isaiah 56:1-8, is quite inclusive, abolishing many barriers.  All those who believe in God and keep the divine commandments may participate in the future messianic salvation.  Foreigners may participate.  Eunuchs (excluded in Deuteronomy 23:2) may participate.

But we human beings tend to like exclusionary categories God rejects, do we not?  Divine grace seeks people like us and dissimilar from us.  It welcomes those who, regardless of any one of a set of factors, we might exclude, but whom God also loves.  The standard is a faithful response.

I have long been a churchy person.  Yet I have felt more spiritual kinship with refugees from organized religion than with certain other churchy people.  Many of the former group have been more receptive to grace than many of the latter group, the ones who made them feel unwelcome in the church.  These refugees from church have included homosexuals and people who have asked too many questions.  I, as a churchy heterosexual who enjoys questions, have sat among them and shown them that many Christians harbor attitudes that welcome them.

Eucharist in the Corinthian Church in the 50s C.E. was apparently not always welcoming.  It was a potluck meal upon which many of the poorer members depended.  Yet some of the more prosperous members ate ahead of time, did not contribute to the common meal, and took the occasion to become intoxicated.  All of these practices were abuses.

From the beginning of Christianity the Church has been rife with abuses.  Human nature has not changed over time, after all.  Ecclesiastical partisanship has not ceased.  Exploitation has not ceased.  However, God has not ceased to bely our ecclesiastical sins either.

May we pay closer attention to that last point.









Devotion for Proper 21, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  St. Peter Paying the Temple Tax

Image in the Public Domain

Living in Community

OCTOBER 1, 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 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


Genesis 43:1-15, 26-30 or Isaiah 55:1-13

Psalm 28

1 Corinthians 10:19-33

Matthew 17:22-18:5


We have obligations to each other.  Even what we do (or do not do) in private affects other people.  We should, for example, want scoundrels and wicked people to repent (as in Isaiah 55:7), not give up on them (as in Psalm 28:4).  We should seek reconciliation, as Joseph was preparing to instigate, in Genesis 43.  We should not abuse our freedom to the detriment of others.  In Christ we are free to become our best selves.

The story in Matthew 17:24-27 requires unpacking.

The tax in question was the Temple tax of one didrachmon–a half-shekel.  Every Jewish male was to pay it annually, although enforcement was not rigorous.  The scriptural basis of the Temple tax was Exodus 30:13.  It was a controversial tax for more than one reason.  For the poor the tax–two days’ wages of a laborer–was a burden.  Essenes argued that the tax was properly a once-in-a-lifetime payment.  Sadducees thought that the tax should be voluntary.  Jesus, who seemed to have a low opinion of taxation (see also Matthew 22:15-22), nevertheless decided not to cause offense.

I have no difficulty accepting this story as genuine.  Yet it, like so many stories, carries more than one meaning, depending on the time of the reading or hearing of it.  Consider, O reader, the year of the composition of the Gospel of Matthew–85 C.E. or so.

There was no more Temple yet a version of tax remained.  Roman forces had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E.  A two-drachma tribute to Rome was due annually, and Roman authorities enforced tax laws.  In the Christian context giving to the church was properly voluntary.  For Jewish Christians, marginal within Judaism, their identity remained Jewish; they did not seek to offend.

In my cultural-political setting–North America in 2018–the culture is moving in more than one direction simultaneously.  On one hand politics and culture are coarsening.  On the other hand efforts to avoid causing offense are become more prominent, sometimes to ridiculous extremes.  Meanwhile, people from various points on the spectrum have become more likely to take offense.  “Snowflakes” come in various political stripes.  Everything is controversial; there is probably nothing that does not offend somebody, somewhere.

I, as a human being, have responsibilities to my fellow human beings, who have responsibilities to me.  I, for example, have no moral right to spout racial and ethnic slurs and/or stereotypes, not that I would ever do that.  Quoting them in certain contexts, in which one’s disapproval is plain, is justifiable, however.  I have a responsibility to consider the sensibilities of others–to a reasonable point.  Yet I know that, whatever I do, I will offend someone, for somebody will be of a mind to take offense.  I am responsible for doing my best to be respectful.  I am also responsible to others not to be ridiculously sensitive, thereby doing nothing or too little.

Where should one draw the line separating responsible self-restraint in the name of not offending the consciences of others from overdoing it and still failing in not causing offense because some people are snowflakes?  The answer to that question varies according to circumstances.  One, relying on grace, should do one’s best.  If one needs to do better, one can do that, by grace.  One is not responsible for the thin skins of others.









Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 28, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Parable of the Wicked Servants

Above:  Parable of the Wicked Servants

Image in the Public Domain

Humility and Arrogance

NOVEMBER 11-13, 2021


The Collect:

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose bring salvation to birth.

Give us faith amid the tumults of this world,

trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53


The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 4:4-18 (Thursday)

Daniel 4:19-27 (Friday)

Daniel 4:28-37 (Saturday)

Psalm 16 (All Days)

1 Timothy 6:11-21 (Thursday)

Colossians 2:6-15 (Friday)

Mark 12:1-12 (Saturday)


FYI:  Daniel 4:1-37 in Protestant Bibles equals Daniel 4:1-34 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox translations.


Arrogance can be easy to muster and humility can be difficult to manifest.  I know this well, for

  1. I have been prone to intellectual arrogance, and
  2. humility can be painful.

To be fair, some people I have known have nurtured my intellectual arrogance via their lack of intellectual curiosity and their embrace of anti-intellectualism.  That reality, however, does nothing to negate the spiritual problem.  I am glad to report, however, that it is a subsiding problem, by grace.

The internal chronology of the Book of Daniel defies historical accuracy; I came to understand that fact years ago via close study of the text.  The Book of Daniel is folkloric and theological, not historical and theological.  The folktale for these three days concerns King Nebuchadrezzar II (a.k.a. Nebuchadnezzar II), King of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, who reigned from 605 to 562 B.C.E.  The arrogant monarch, the story tells us, fell into insanity.  Then he humbled himself before God, who restored the king’s reason.

So now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of Heaven, all of whose works are just and whose ways are right, and who is able to humble those who behave arrogantly.

–Daniel 4:34, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is folklore, not history, but the lesson regarding the folly of arrogance is true.

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12) exists in the context of conflict between Jesus and Temple authorities during the days immediately prior to his death.  In Chapter 11 our Lord and Savior cleansed the Temple and, in a symbolic act, cursed a fig tree as a sign of his rejection of the Temple system.  In Chapters 11 and 12 Temple authorities attempted to entrap Jesus in his words.  He evaded the traps and ensnared his opponents instead.  In this context Jesus told the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.  The vineyard was Israel, the slain slaves/servants were prophets, and the beloved son was Jesus.  The tenants were the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  They sought that which belonged to God, for Christ was the heir to the vineyard.

1 Timothy 6:11-21 continues a thread from earlier in the chapter.  Greed is bad, we read:

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

–6:9-10, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Faithful people of God, however, are to live differently, pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness (verse 11).  The wealthy are to avoid haughtiness and reliance on uncertain riches, and to trust entirely in God (verse 17).  Further instructions for them include being generous and engaging in good works (verse 18).

Complete dependence upon God is a Biblical lesson from both Testaments.  It is a pillar of the Law of Moses, for example, and one finds it in 1 Timothy 6, among many other parts of the New Testament.  Colossians 2:6-15 drives the point home further, reminding us that Christ has cancelled the debt of sin.

Forgiveness as the cancellation of debt reminds me of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35).  A king forgave a large debt–10,000 talents–a servant owed to him.  Given that one talent was fifteen years’ worth of wages for a laborer, and that the debt was therefore 150,000 years’ worth of wages, the amount of the debt was hyperbolic.  The point of the hyperbole in the parable was that the debt was impossible to repay.  The king was merciful, however.  Unfortunately, the servant refused to forgive debts other people owed to him, so the king revoked the debt forgiveness and sent the servant to prison.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

–Matthew 18:35, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Just as God forgives us, we have a responsibility to forgive others.  Doing so might require us to lay aside illusions of self-importance.  That has proven true in my life.

The path of walking humbly with God and acknowledging one’s total dependence upon God leads to liberation from illusions of grandeur, independence, and self-importance.  It leads one to say, in the words of Psalm 16:1 (Book of Common Worship, 1993):

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”








Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 21, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  The Prophet Zechariah, from the Sistine Chapel

Image in the Public Domain

Fear Versus Loving Our Neighbors

SEPTEMBER 27-29, 2021


The Collect:

Generous God, your Son gave his life

that we might come to peace with you.

Give us a share of your Spirit,

and in all we do empower us to bear the name of

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48


The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 6:9-15 (Monday)

Zechariah 8:18-23 (Tuesday)

Zechariah 10:1-12 (Wednesday)

Psalm 5 (All Days)

1 Peter 1:3-9 (Monday)

1 John 2:18-25 (Tuesday)

Matthew 18:6-9 (Wednesday)


Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness,

because of those who lie in wait for me;

make your way straight before me.

–Psalm 5:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The pericopes for these three days indicate perilous uncertain circumstances.  Either the Persian Empire, the Seleucid Empire, or the Roman Empire is in charge.  The most optimistic hopes for the time after the Babylonian Exile have not come to fruition.  Nevertheless, calls for hope in God and faithfulness to God resound.

The historical record indicates that the Kingdom of God has yet to arrive in its fullness, and that Jesus did not return in the first century C.E.  Yet calls for hope in God and faithfulness to God remain valid, necessary, and proper.  Dashed expectations of the creation of paradise on Earth should lead one to question certain human predictions, not the fidelity of God to divine promises.  God and religion are different from each other, so disappointment with the latter ought not to lead to disillusionment with and/or rejection of the former.

As for human fidelity to God, the hyperbolic language of Matthew 18:6-9 agrees with the social ethics of Zechariah 8:18-23.  Just as Matthew 18:6-9 is not an order to maim and mutilate oneself, Zechariah’s message to have no fear (8:15) and to treat each other properly is timeless.

Have no fear!  These are the things you are to do:  Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.  And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate–declares the LORD….you must love honesty and integrity.

–Zechariah 8:15b-17, 19b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Often we human beings abuse, oppress, and/or exploit some among us out of fear.  Perhaps we fear that there will be too little of some commodity to provide for all sufficiently, so some of us protect the interests of “me and mine” at the expense of others.  Or maybe we fear for our safety and that of those dear to us, so we deprive strangers of security or approve of policies to do so.  Perhaps we merely fail to understand the “others,” so we fear those we do not comprehend.  Fear requires little effort to transform into hatred, and hatred expresses itself actively and passively.

Some fear is healthy.  I fear touching a hot oven, for example.  Fear of consequences of actions has prevented me from committing many sins when moral courage has failed.  I affirm well-placed fear which leads to good decision-making while rejecting fear which leads to actions harmful to innocent parties.

May love of our neighbors guide our decisions and actions relative to others.  May we act for their benefit, not their detriment, for that which we do to others, we do to ourselves.  May the joys of others cause us to rejoice and the sorrows of others prompt us to mourn.  May we remember that, in God’s economy, there is no scarcity, artificial or otherwise.  The mercantilist assumption that wealth is a zero-sum game does not apply to blessings, which God bestows generously.  May we–especially we who claim to follow God, or at least to attempt to do so–never assume that blessings are part of a zero-sum game.  May we therefore be generous of spirit when dealing with our fellow human beings.









Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 20, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jesus Blesssing Children

Above:  Jesus Blessing Children

Image Source = Father Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., New Catholic Picture Bible:  Popular Stories from the Old and New Testaments (New York:  Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1955, 1960)

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

God, the Primary Actor

SEPTEMBER 27, 2023


The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants.

Because we cannot rely on our own abilities,

grant us your merciful judgment,

and train us to embody the generosity of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 41:1-13

Psalm 106:1-12

Matthew 18:1-5



Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD

or show forth all his praise?

–Psalm 106:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


A child, at the time and place of the Gospels’ setting, was powerless and vulnerable.  Yet, according to Matthew 18:3, anyone who enters the Kingdom of Heaven/God must do so like a child.  Anyone who humbles himself accordingly and enters the Kingdom will be the greatest there, for the last will be first and the first will be last.

Other vulnerable and powerless people were exiles, such as those God was preparing to liberate in Isaiah 41.

God is the primary actor in the divine-human relationship.  Grace precedes us, walks beside us, carries us when necessary, and succeeds us.  How we respond to God matters greatly, of course, affecting not only us but those around us.  To recognize our complete dependence on God and our reliance on each other–to surrender the illusion of independence and abandon the lie of the ultimate importance of social status–is to embark on a healthy spiritual path, one which entails numerous and varied expressions of gratitude to God, who has done, is doing, and will do infinitely more than we can imagine.






God, the Primary Actor


Devotion for October 27 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   1 comment


Above:  Parable of the Wicked Servant, by Domenico Fetti

Image in the Public Domain

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part XVIII:  Forgiveness, Divine and Human

OCTOBER 27, 2022


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 29:1-29

Psalm 110 (Morning)

Psalms 66 and 23 (Evening)

Matthew 18:21-35


God demanded complete fidelity in Deuteronomy 29.  Hence there was no forgiveness for the sin of idolatry, turning away from the covenant.  If I understand the Hebrew Scriptures correctly, idolatry led to destruction, which mercy usually followed.  The consequences of actions played out; that constituted judgment.  Then God granted the surviving remnant another chance.  And, if I understand the New Testament correctly, the only unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  In textual context the unpardonable sin is the inability to distinguish good from evil.  Perhaps blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and the abandonment of the covenant are the same thing.

I, as a student of the Scriptures, detect recurring themes.  One of them is that God’s forgiveness of our sins depends partially on our forgiveness of those who have wronged us.  As God forgives us, we ought to forgive others.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so will you be judged, and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt to you.

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible

In the parable from Matthew 18 the forgiven servant had no way of repaying the enormous debt.  Yet he refused to forgive smaller debts owed to him.  So his former creditor, the king, did to him (the servant) what the servant had done to others.

Forgive us the wrong we have done,

as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.

–Matthew 6:12, The Revised English Bible


For, if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.

–Matthew 6:14-15, The Revised English Bible

The paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer from A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989) contains the following line:

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.—page 181

I like the verb “absorb” in context.  We ought not to carry those hurts around like luggage.  Yes, they will inform us.  We might remember them for a long time, but they need not transform into grudges.

I have struggled with forgiving others.  I still do.  Yes, I have the free will (sometimes) to forgive those who have sinned against me, but letting go is oddly more difficult than hanging on to those grievances.  Yet letting go leads to a lighter spiritual load.

Fortunately, grace is present and abundant.  I feel like St. Paul the Apostle:

I discover this principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible

At least one who has that struggle is not committing the unpardonable sin.  Having a spiritual struggle is not necessarily negative; it might even be mostly positive, for it can lead to a stronger state.

I recall confessing a particular sin–inability to forgive despite my knowledge of the imperative of doing so—to my priest, Beth Long, once.  People—some perfidious—have wronged me.  Beth counseled me to forgive myself.  The trauma would wash out of my spiritual system in time and I would, by grace, find the ability to forgive.  Those men’s deeds were perfidious; forgiving them did not change what they did.  But it did change me.

We human beings are weak, but at least we do not need to rely on our strength to do what God has called us to do and to become what God has called us to become.  Thanks be to God!









Devotion for October 24, 25, and 26 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   7 comments


Above:  Jesus Blessing Little Children

Created by Currier & Ives, Circa 1867

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC2-2693

Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part XVII:  Mutual Responsibility

OCTOBER 24-26, 2022


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 25:17-26:19 (October 24)

Deuteronomy 27:1-26 (October 25)

Deuteronomy 28:1-22 (October 26)

Psalm 143 (Morning–October 24)

Psalm 86 (Morning–October 25)

Psalm 122 (Morning–October 26)

Psalms 81 and 116 (Evening–October 24)

Psalms 6 and 19 (Evening–October 25)

Psalms 141 and 90 (Evening–October 26)

Matthew 17:1-13 (October 24)

Matthew 17:14-27 (October 25)

Matthew 18:1-20 (October 26)


We are all responsible for each other.  And God will provide.  Both statements flow from the assigned readings from Deuteronomy and Matthew.  In some circumstances they merge into the following statement:  Sometimes God provides via human agents.  Thus there are blessings upon those who defend the rights of strangers, widows, and orphans, just as there are curses upon those who violate those rights.  Curses in Deuteronomy 28 include drought, unsuccessful enterprises, and epidemics of hemorrhoids.  Anyone who comes to God must do so without pretense—as a small child—and woe unto anyone who causes one to stumble!  What one person does affects others.

We are responsible for each other.  So may we put aside selfishness.  May our ambitions build others and ourselves up, not elevate ourselves to the detriment of others.  May we treat others as we want others to treat us.  May we act confidently, assured that God will provide, which is the point of Matthew 17:27.  May we recognize and treat others as bearers of the image of God and therefore worthy of respect and human dignity.  By helping them we aid ourselves.  By harming them we hurt ourselves.









Week of Proper 14: Wednesday, Year 2, and Week of Proper 14: Thursday, Year 2   3 comments

Above:  A Hook

God, On the Hook

AUGUST 10 and 11, 2022


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.



Ezekiel 9:1-7 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Then He called loudly in my hearing, saying,

Approach, you men in charge of the city, each bearing his weapons of destruction!

And six men entered by way of the upper gate that faces north, each with his club in hand; and among them was another, clothed in linen, with a writing case at his waist.  They came forward and stopped at the bronze altar.  Now the Presence of the God of Israel had moved from the cherub on which it had rested to the platform of the House.  He called to the man clothed in linen with the writing case at his waist; and the LORD said to him,

Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who moan and groan because of all the abominations that are committed in it.

To the others He said in my hearing,

Follow him through the city and strike; show no pity or compassion.  Kill off graybeard, youth, and maiden, women and children; but do not touch any person who bears the mark.  Begin here at My Sanctuary.

So they began with the elders who were in front of the House.  And He said to them,

Defile the House and fill the courts with the slain.  Then go forth.

So they went forth and began to kill in the city.

Ezekiel 10:18-22 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Then the presence of the LORD left the platform of the House and stopped above the cherubs.  And I saw the cherubs lift their wings and rise from the earth, with the wheels beside them as they departed; and they stopped at the entrance of the eastern gate of the House of the LORD, with the Presence of the God of Israel above them.  They were the same creatures that I had seen below the God of Israel at the Chebar Canal; so now I know that they were cherubs.  Each one had four faces and each had four wings.  As for the form of their faces, they were the very faces I had seen by the Chebar Canal–their appearance and their features–and each could move in the direction of any of its faces.


Ezekiel 12:1-16 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word of the LORD came to me:

O mortal, you dwell among the rebellious breed.  They have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but hear not; for they are a rebellious breed.  Therefore, mortal, get yourself gear for exile, and go into exile before their eyes.  Go into exile from your home to another place before their very eyes; perhaps they will take note, even though they are a rebellious breed.  Carry out your gear for exile by day before their very eyes, as one who goes out into exile.  Before their eyes, break through the wall and carry [the gear] out through it; before their eyes, carry it on your shoulder.  Take it out in the dark, and cover your face that you may not see the land; for I will make you a portent to the House of Israel.

I did just as I was ordered:  I took out my gear by day as gear for exile, and in the evening I broke through the wall with my own hands.  In the darkness I carried [the gear] out on my shoulder, carrying it before their eyes.

In the morning, the word of the LORD came to me:

O mortal, did not the House of Israel, that rebellious breed, as, you, “What are you doing?”  Say to them:  “Thus said the Lord GOD:  This pronouncement concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the House of Israel who are in it.”  Say:  “I am a portent for you:  As I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity.  And the prince among them shall carry his gear on his shoulder as he goes out in the dark.  He shall break through the wall in order to carry [his gear] out through it; he shall cover his face, because he himself shall not see the land with his eyes.”  I will spread My net over him, and he shall be caught in My snare.  I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, but he shall not see it; and there he shall die.  And all those around him, his helpers and all his troops, I will scatter in every direction; and I will unsheathe the sword after them.  Then, when I have scattered them among the nations and dispersed them through the countries, they shall know that I am the LORD.  But I will spare a few of them from the sword, from famine, and from pestilence; that they may recount all their abominable deeds among the nations to which they come; and they shall know that I am the LORD!


Psalm 113 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


Give Praise, you servants of the LORD;

praise the Name of the LORD.

2 Let the Name of the LORD be blessed,

from this time forth for evermore.

3 From the rising of the sun to its going down

let the Name of the LORD be praised.

The LORD is high above all nations,

and his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high,

but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?

He takes up the weak out of the dust

and lifts up the poor from the ashes.

7 He sets them with the princes,

with the princes of his people.

He makes the woman of a childless house

to be a joyful mother of children.


Psalm 39:11-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

11  Take your affliction from me;

I am worn down by the blows of your hand.

12  With rebukes for sin you punish us;

like a moth you eat away all that is dear to us;

truly, everyone is but a puff of wind.

13  Hear my prayer, O LORD,

and give ear to my cry;

hold not your peace at my tears.

14  For I am but a sojourner with you,

a wayfarer, as all my forebears were.

15  Turn your gaze from me, that I may be glad again,

before I go my way and am no more.


Matthew 18:15-20 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

[Jesus continued,] “

But if your brother wrongs you, go and have it out with him at once–just between the two of you.  If he will listen to you, you have won him back as your brother.  But if he will not listen to you, take one or two others with you so that everything that is said may have the support of two or three witnesses.  And if he still won’t pay attention, tell the matter to the church.  And if he won’t even listen to the church then he must be to you like a pagan–or a tax-collector!

Believe me, whatever you forbid upon earth will be what is forbidden in Heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be what is permitted in Heaven.

And I tell you once more that if two of you on earth agree in asking for anything it will be granted to you by my Heavenly Father.  For wherever two or three people have come together in my name, I am there, right among them!


Matthew 18:21-19:1 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Peter approached him [Jesus] with the question,

Master, if my brother goes on wronging me how often should I forgive him?  Would seven times be enough?

Jesus replied,

No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!  For the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants.  When he had started calling in his accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him millions of pounds.  As he had no means of repaying the debt, his master gave orders for him to be sold as a slave, and his wife and children and all his possessions as well, and the money to be paid over.  At this the servant fell on his knees before his master.  “Oh, be patient with me!” he cried, “and I will pay you back every penny!”  Then his master was moved with pity for him, set him free and cancelled his debt.

But when this same servant had left his master’s presence, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a few shillings.  He grabbed him and seized him by the throat, crying, “Pay up what you owe me!”  At this his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and implored him, “Oh, be patient with me, and I will pay you back!”  But he refused and went out and had him put in prison until he should repay the debt.

When the other fellow-servants saw what had happened, they were horrified and went and told their master the whole incident.  This his master called him in.

“You wicked servant!” he said.  “Didn’t I cancel all that debt when you begged me to do so?  Oughtn’t you to have taken pity on your fellow-servant as I, your master, took pity on you?”  And his master in anger handed him over to the jailers till he should repay the whole debt.  This is how my Heavenly Father will treat you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

When Jesus had finished talking on these matters, he left Galilee and went on to the district of Judea on the far side of the Jordan.


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


This is bleak material.  The readings from Matthew speak of forgiveness and how, important it is, but the lections from Ezekiel are harsh.  Idolatrous abominations have polluted the Temple, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian forces will destroy the Temple and slaughter much of the population (including young children), the divine Presence will depart the city, King Zedekiah will go blinded into exile, and Ezekiel will also go into exile.  God will spare from death those who had objected to the sinfulness, but apparently this protection will not extend to young children.  And the texts depict God as being in charge of all these events.

As an intellectually honest Monotheist, I acknowledge the main problem of Monotheism:  There is no good and honest way to let God off the hook.  If I a were to accept the existence of multiple deities, I could blame one or more for evil and other events I do not like.  Yet Monotheism requires me to accept that God is responsible for good and for bad, for what I like and for what I consider detestable.  Brains older, wiser, and better educated than mine have pondered this quandary, which remains, so I will not untangle it today or any other day.

Father Robert Farrar Capon offers the following analysis:

Just remember that what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the liver fluke, the killer whale, and the loan shark–that if God is holding all things in being right now, he’s got some explaining to do if he hopes to maintain his reputation as the original Good Guy.  Or, more accurately (since God steadfastly refuses to show up and explain anything, except by announcing mysteries and paradoxes) we’ve got a lot of explaining to do if we are to go on thinking of him in terms of his creation.

The Third Peacock:  The Problem of God and Evil, 2d. Edition (Minneapolis, MN:  Winston Press, 1986) , page 11

A few pages later, we find these words:

God is still firmly on the hook.  (That he is actually on the hook, of course, is God’s own final answer to the whole matter.  According to the Gospel, he himself hangs on the cross with the rest of his free creation.  If you believe that, it is great comfort; it is not, however, one whit less a mystery.–page 14

The greatest fault of Fundamentalism is its pretense of knowing more than it does.  My theology, in contrast, flees from the false comfort of easy and pat answers.  I embrace the unknown, claim the mystery, and catalog the questions I want to ask God one day, in another life.  Until that day, however, I choose not to refrain from recognizing that there is only one God and seeking a deeper relationship with God.  Certain matters are too great for me, not that my acknowledgement of this fact prevents me from remaining inquisitive.


Week of Proper 14: Tuesday, Year 2   7 comments

Above:  A Shepherd

There is Hope Yet

AUGUST 9, 2022


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.


Ezekiel 2:8-3:4 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

[And He said to me,]–per 2:1

And you, mortal, heed what I say to you:  Do not be rebellious like that rebellious breed.  Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.

As I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me, holding a written scroll.  He unrolled it before me, and it was inscribed on the front and the back; on it were written lamentations, dirges, and woes.

He said me,

Mortal, eat what is offered you; eat this scroll, and go speak to the House of Israel.

So I opened my mouth, and He gave me this scroll to eat, as He said to me,

Mortal, feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll that I give you.

I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey.

Then He said to me,

Mortal, go to the House of Israel and repeat My very words to them…..

Psalm 119:65-72 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

65  O LORD, you have dealt graciously with your servant,

according to your word.

66  Teach me discernment and knowledge,

for I have believed in your commandments.

67  Before I was afflicted I went astray,

but now I keep your word.

68  You are good and you bring forth good;

instruct me in your statutes.

69  The proud have smeared me with lies,

but I will keep your commandments with my whole heart.

70  Their heart is gross and fat,

but my delight is in your law.

71  It is good for me that I have been afflicted,

that I might learn your statutes.

72  The law of your mouth is dearer to me

than thousands in gold and silver.

Matthew 18:1-6, 10-14 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

It was at this time that the disciples came to Jesus with the question,

Who is really greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?

Jesus called a little child to his side and set him on his feet in the middle of them all.

Believe me,

he said,

unless you change your whole outlook and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.  It is the man who can be as humble as this little child who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.

Anyone who welcomes one child like this for my sake is welcoming me.  But if anyone leads astray one of these little children who believe in me he would be better off thrown into the depths of the sea with a mill-stone round his neck!…

Be careful that you never despise a single one of these little ones–for I tell you that they have angels who see my Father’s face continually in Heaven.

What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep and one wanders away from the rest, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hill-side and set out to look for the one who has wandered away?  Yes, and if he should chance to find it I assure you he is more delighted over that one than he is over the ninety-nine who never wandered away.  You can understand then that it is never the will of your Father in Heaven that a single one of these little ones should be lost.


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The unifying theme for this day is hope.  In Ezekiel, God commissions the prophet to preach to a rebellious people.  The people might be rebellious, but they are not beyond repentance and forgiveness.  There is hope yet.  And the lost sheep is valuable to the shepherd.  There is hope yet.

In Handel’s Messiah, in the chorus, “For we, like sheep, have gone astray,” the voice parts wander and roam at the word “astray.”  It is a nice touch in that oratorio.  When we, as individuals, have gone astray, God seeks us out.  When we, as groups of various sizes, have gone astray, God seeks us out.  It is not too late to return.

The reading from Ezekiel does contain a fascinating detail, one worth exploring here.  The words of God were “lamentations, dirges, and woes,” yet Ezekiel reports that they “tasted as sweet as honey.”  My mind turns from this point to Psalm 19:9-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever,

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,

more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey,

than honey in the comb.

By them is your servant enlightened,

and in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:9-11 complements Ezekiel 2:8-3:4 nicely.

We might not understand the decrees of God.  And, if we do, we might find them (or at least some of them) shocking and uncomfortable.  If so, may we become like Ezekiel, who considered them “as sweet as honey.”  Then, by words and deeds, may we proclaim the means of repentance and forgiveness to others.  There is hope yet.


Week of Proper 1: Thursday, Year 2   5 comments

Above:  The Rich and the Poor, Close Together

Image Source = eenthappana

Mercy and Impartiality



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.


James 2:1-13 (Revised English Bible):

My friends, you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ who reigns in glory and you must always be impartial.  For instance, two visitors may enter your meeting, one a well-dressed man with gold rings, and the other a poor man in grimy clothes.  Suppose you pay special attention to the well-dressed man and say to him,

Please take this seat,

while to the poor man you say,

You stand over there, or sit here on the floor by my footstool,

do you not see that you are discriminating among your members and judging by wrong standards?  Listen, my dear friends:  has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to possess the kingdom he has promised to those who love him?  And yet you have humiliated the poor man.  Moreover, are not the rich your oppressors?  Is it not they who drag you into court and pour contempt on the honoured name by which God has claimed you?

If, however, you are observing the sovereign law laid down in scripture,

Love your neighbor as you love yourself,

that is excellent.  But if you show partiality, you are committing a sin and you stand convicted by the law as offenders.   For if a man breaks just one commandment and keeps all the others, he is guilty of breaking all of them.  For he who said,

You shall not commit adultery,

said also,

You shall not commit murder.

If you commit murder you are a breaker of the law, even if you do not commit adultery as well.  Always speak and act as men who are to be judged under a law which makes them free.  In that judgement there will be no mercy  for the man who has shown none.  Mercy triumphs over judgement.

Psalm 72:1-4, 13-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Give the King your justice, O God,

and your righteousness to the King’s Son;

2  That he may rule your people righteously

and the poor with justice;

3  That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,

and the little hills bring righteousness.

4  He shall defend the needy among the people;

he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

13  He shall have pity on the lowly and the poor;

he shall preserve the lives of the needy.

14  He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence,

and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

Mark 8:27-33 (Revised English Bible):

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples,

Who do people say that I am?

They answered,

Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets.

He asked,

And you, who do you say that I am?

Peter replied,

You are the Messiah.

Then he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him; and he began to teach them that the Son of Man had to endure great suffering, and to be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes; to be put to death, and to rise again three days afterwards.  He spoke about it plainly.  At this Peter took hold of him and began to rebuke him.  But Jesus, turning and looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter.

Out of my sight, Satan!

he said.

You think as men think, not as God thinks.


The Collect:

O  God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 1:  Thursday, Year 1:

Week of 6 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 1:

Week of 6 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 2:

Faith in Romans vs. Faith in James:


Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye” when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

–Matthew 7:1-5, Revised Standard Version

and this:

Matthew 18:22-35, which I cover with this post:

One of the advantages to following a well-planned lectionary is reading certain books continuously.  If, however, one drops in during the continuous reading and does not orientate one’s self, one will not not notice the threads binding one portion of a book to others.  James 2:1-13 fits neatly with James 1 and, immediately, the rest of James 2.  (Read for yourself.)  At the end of James 1, for example, we read that pure religion–worship, rather–in the sight of God entails caring for widows and orphans (and other vulnerable people, we may extrapolate safely).

Then we read a condemnation of class-conscious preference and the predatory  rich, the kind of who drag the poor into court.

Fortunately, we read, mercy trumps judgment.  This is consistent with Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5 yet goes beyond that.  James 2:13 does say that, by showing mercy to others, we can erase our own sins.  I can understand why Martin Luther, who objected strongly to Roman Catholic theology of works, called James “an epistle of straw.”  But what if Luther overreacted?

A firm and balanced grasp of James 2:13 requires an understanding of faith, as Paul used that term in Romans, and faith, as James wrote of it.  Fortunately, I have covered that in a post, a link to which I have provided in this post.  It is sufficed to say here, however, that if one understands faith as intellectual and therefore works as necessary for justification, James 2:13 is consistent with the rest of the book.

There was much egalitarianism, especially across economic lines, in the early Church.  Unfortunately, as Christianity became respectable, mainstream, and even state-sponsored, it abandoned much of that ethic in favor of defending the status quo as God’s favored order.  To agitate for social justice, then, became a sin, according to the Church.  This state of affairs was itself a sin.

The predatory rich, who are distinct from the genuinely philanthropic and kindhearted wealthy, remain with us, as does the imperative to show mercy.  May all of us, regardless of our economic states, treat others with mercifully, obeying the Golden Rule.


Published in a nearly identical form as Week of 6 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 2, at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on June 25, 2011