Archive for the ‘Matthew 22’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 25, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Feast of Esther, by Jan Lievens

Image in the Public Domain

Hesed

OCTOBER 27, 2019

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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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Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22 or Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Psalm 35:1-3, 9-18

1 Corinthians 13

Matthew 22:34-46

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Today’s readings from the Hebrew Bible reflect danger and divine deliverance.  In Esther and Isaiah the agents of divine deliverance are human beings.

The appeal for divine deliverance is the request for hesed, or loving kindness, steadfast love, keeping of faith.  That is a form of love that is covenantal and beyond sentimentality.  That is the human love in 1 Corinthians 13.  That is the love for God and neighbor in Matthew 22:34-40, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, and sounding much like the then-fairly recently deceased Rabbi Hillel.

Two words I often hear misused are “love” and “friend.”  I like chocolate, not love it.  In the age of social media “friend” has taken on superficial and shallow connotations.  Regardless of how many “friends” one has on any given social media website, one is fortunate if one has a few friends face-to-face–people who will proverbially go through hell for one.  I mean no disrespect to Joseph Scriven (1820-1886), author of the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  Yet the passage,

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

is inaccurate.  If we define a friend as an individual who behaves as a friend, those alleged friends in the hymn are actually enemies.  If one has “friends” such as those, one joins the company of Job, afflicted by four enemies by the time the final author of that book wrote.

May we be agents of hesed to one another.  May we have hesed for God.  After all, God has hesed for all of us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUTTA OF DISIBODENBERG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND HER STUDENT, SAINT HILDEGARD OF BINGEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF GERARD MOULTRIE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZYGMUNT SZCESNY FELINSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF WARSAW, TITULAR BISHOP OF TARSUS, AND FOUNDER OF RECOVERY FOR THE POOR AND THE CONGREGATION OF THE FRANCISCAN SISTERS OF THE FAMILY OF MARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZYGMUNT SAJNA, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/09/17/hesed-part-iii/

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Devotion for Proper 24, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Caesar’s Coin, by Peter Paul Rubens

Image in the Public Domain

The Presence of God

OCTOBER 20, 2019

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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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Song of Songs 2:8-13 or Isaiah 59:1-4, 7-14, 20-21

Psalm 34:11-22

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Matthew 22:15-33

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The Song of Songs is a text between a man and a woman, lovers, perhaps married.  They are in mortal danger because of their love.  I reject overly metaphorical interpretation of the book, such as it is between YHWH and Israel or Christ and the Church.  Nevertheless, the affirmation that God is present in the details of our lives does sacramentalize them.

Speaking of our lives, we Christians have the calling to fulfill our roles in the Church, the body of Christ.  We are all important in that respect.  If we do not do our part, we diminish the Church.

The readings from which Isaiah 59 and Psalm 34 complement each other.  God does not separate Himself from us.  No, we separate ourselves from God.  We do this collectively and individually.  We do this via rife injustice.  We do this via idolatry.  We do this via violence.  These sins have consequences in this life and the next one, we read, but God remains faithful and merciful.  Divine judgment comes bound up with divine mercy, however.

Speaking of idolatry, what was one of our Lord and Savior’s supposedly devout adversary doing with that idolatrous, blasphemous Roman coin?  The Pharisaic trick question was, in the mind of the man who asked it, supposed to entrap Jesus, who might sound like a traitor by advising against paying the Roman head tax or might offend Zealots, Jewish nationalists.  The empire had instituted the head tax in the province of Judea in 6 C.E.  The tax had prompted insurrection.  The tax’s existence contributed to the First Jewish War, after the time of Jesus and before the composition of the Gospel of Matthew.  The tax was payable only in Roman coinage.  At the time of the scene the coinage bore the image of Caesar Tiberius (I) and the inscription (in Latin) translated

Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.

Jesus found the middle way and turned the tables, so to speak, on those seeking to ensnare him in his words.

Another trick question followed.  Some Sadducees, who rejected belief in the afterlife, asked a question, rooted in levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).  At the time of the writing of that law, the concept of the afterlife was not part of Judaism.  Those Sadducees had missed the point and weaponized scripture.  Jesus challenged their religious authority.

Tip:  Do not attempt to entrap Jesus in his words.

If we will trust God to help us lead holy lives mindful of the divine presence in all details, especially those we might think of as mundane or not sacred yet not bad, we will find sacred meaning in tasks as simple as housework.  We will also be too busy finding such meaning that we will not act like those people condemned in Isaiah 59 or those who attempted to ensnare Jesus verbally.  No, we will be too busy being aware of living in the presence of God to do any of that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 16, 2018 COMMON ERA

PROPER 19:  THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE, BISHOP AND MARTYR, 258; AND SAINTS CORNELIUS, LUCIUS I, AND STEPHEN I, BISHOPS OF ROME

THE FEAST OF GEORGE HENRY TRABERT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES FRANCIS CARNEY, U.S.-HONDURAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, REVOLUTIONARY, AND MARTYR, 1983

THE FEAST OF MARTIN BEHM, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/09/16/the-presence-of-god-part-vi/

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

Above:  St. Peter Paying the Temple Tax

Image in the Public Domain

Living in Community

SEPTEMBER 29, 2019

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

Psalm 28

1 Corinthians 10:19-33

Matthew 17:22-18:5

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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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER IF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/08/28/living-in-community-part-iii/

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Devotion for Proper 5 (Ackerman)   1 comment

Above:   Paying the Tax with a Coin from the Fish

Image in the Public Domain

The Sovereignty of God

NOT OBSERVED IN 2019

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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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Genesis 27:1-10, 18-19, 26-33, 38-40

Psalm 12

Acts 4:23-31

Matthew 17:24-27

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O LORD, watch over us

and save us from this generation for ever.

The wicked prowl on every side,

and that which is worthless is highly prized by everyone.

–Psalm 12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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One of the primary challenges understanding the Bible is the fact that we moderns come from different cultural and intellectual backgrounds than the ancients did.  The Biblical texts leave much unwritten because members of the original audiences did not require the explanation of every germane assumption.  Consider, O reader, blessings and curses.  By curses I refer not to profane and coarse language, but to the opposite of blessings.  One assumption in the Hebrew Bible is that spoken blessings and curses have power.  Oral blessings and curses are motifs in the Old Testament.  In this case the second son steals the blessing (due to the first son) by fooling an aging and blind father.  The stolen blessing, however, still has power.  Furthermore, God works through the blessing and the act of stealing it.

The theme of the sovereignty of God continues in the readings.  The promises of God are sure in Psalm 12, even though people exalt vileness.  In Acts 4 religious persecution becomes an opportunity certain early Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the faith boldly.

The Gospel reading requires much explanation.  A standard exegesis is that the tax in question was the Temple tax.  However, Father Raymond E. Brown questions this conclusion in his magisterial An Introduction to the New Testament (1997).  He proposes that, since Matthew 17:24-27 does not identify the tax as the Temple tax, it might have been a different tax–perhaps the census tax mentioned in Matthew 22:15-22.  Or, if one assumes that the tax in Matthew 17:24-27 was the Temple tax, one might surmise that post-70 C.E. realities inform the telling of the story.  With the destruction of the Temple and the continuation of the Temple tax, the purpose of said tax had shifted to support the temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount.

The real issue is the sovereignty of God.  The Roman destruction of the Temple could not overcome the sovereignty of God.  Imperial power might extend even to fish, but God could place the coin to pay the tax inside a fish.  For the sake of avoiding public scandal Jesus pays the tax with money God has provided, but God is still more powerful than the Roman Empire.

We who follow God should acknowledge divine sovereignty.  Our relations to the state might be strained.  I acknowledge the moral legitimacy of political revolution sometimes, especially when the system oppresses those who seek to change it peaceably.  In all circumstances, we ought to, in the words of Jesus,

Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar–and God what belongs to God.

–Matthew 22:21, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

God, who is sovereign over empires and republics, wants us.  That is fair.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2017 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 SAINTS LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/the-sovereignty-of-god/

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Devotion for November 4 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Jeremiah--Michelangelo

Above:  Jeremiah from the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo

Image in the Public Domain

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part III:  Putting God to the Test

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2019

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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 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

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 5:1-9

Psalm 5 (Morning)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening)

Matthew 22:23-46

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Shall I not punish such deeds?

–says the LORD–

Shall I not bring retribution

On a nation such as this?

–Jeremiah 5:9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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For you are God who takes no pleasure in wickedness;

no evil can dwell in you.

–Psalm 5:4, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness:

no one who is evil can be your guest.

–Psalm 5:4, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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In Jeremiah 5 God defends the impending destruction of Jerusalem.  There is nobody who acts justly and seeks integrity, God says in 5:1.  Not only are people unrighteous, but they are also unrepentant.

That sounds like an accurate description of those who peppered our Lord and Savior with questions while trying to entrap him inside his own words in Matthew 22.  He beat them at their own game, of course.  Whenever someone puts God to the test, God passes with flying colors.

I have tried to read Matthew 22:23-46 as a member of that gospel’s original audience might have done.  That audience consisted of Jewish Christians marginalized from their Hebrew community looking back at the life of Jesus in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple therein at the end of the First Jewish War.  From that position of spiritual and human conflict–resentment even–such an account must have seemed like a prelude to the cataclysmic events of that war and the words from Jeremiah 5 might have echoed in more than one head.  But that is not my perspective.  And I take caution to avoid such a point of view, for I have clear and unpleasant memories of televangelists and others making tacky, insensitive, and judgmental statements of that sort after disasters of both human and natural origins–Hurricane Katrina (2005), the September 11 attacks (2001), etc.  No, my impulse is toward love.  As for judgment, I leave that matter to God, who is infinitely wiser than any human being.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF IDA SCUDDER, REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA MEDICAL MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KENNEDY “DUKE” ELLINGTON, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WISCONSIN

THE FEAST OF MOTHER EDITH, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/jeremiah-and-matthew-part-iii-putting-god-to-the-test/

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Devotion for November 3 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

mhs_sad_ostateczny_xvii_w_lipie_p

Above:  The Last Judgment Icon

Image in the Public Domain

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part II:  Idolatry = Spiritual Adultery

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2019

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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 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

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 3:6-4:2

Psalm 103 (Morning)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening)

Matthew 22:1-22

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Turn back, O Rebel Israel–declares the LORD.  I will not look on you in anger, for I am compassionate–declares the LORD.  I do not bear a grudge for all time.  Only recognize your sin; for you have transgressed against the LORD your God, and scattered your favors among strangers under every leafy tree, and you have not heeded Me–declares the LORD.

Turn back, rebellious children–declares the LORD.  Since I have espoused you, I will take you, one from a town and two from a clan, and bring you to Zion.  And I will give you shepherds after My own heart; who will pasture you with knowledge and skill.

–Jeremiah 3:12b-15, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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He will not always accuse us,

neither will he keep his anger for ever.

–Psalm 103:9, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Jeremiah, speaking for God, likened idolatry to adultery (3:8).  Yet there was always hope for redemption via human repentance and divine mercy.

Collective unrighteousness constitutes a major theme in both main readings for today.  In Matthew 22:1-22 it applies chiefly to those disloyal people who rejected the wedding invitation after they had accepted it.

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

–Luke 9:62, The New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition

The first round of servants consisted of the Hebrew Prophets, the second of proto-Christians (and later Christian missionaries) in the highly allegorical parable.  The banquet is the Last Judgment, where all must be clothed with righteousness–or else.  Here individual righteousness applies to the story, which, without accident, follows the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

It is vital to place the teaching in Matthew 22:1-14 in narrative context.  Jesus was in Jerusalem during his final Passover week, what we Christians call Holy Week.  The stakes were high and the gauntlet thrown down.  Jesus was confronting a corrupt political-religious system headquartered at the Temple.  He was doing this during the days leading up the annual celebration of divine deliverance from slavery in Egypt –a celebration held in occupied Jerusalem, where a Roman fortress overlooked the Temple.

Thus the question of a particular tax–a poll tax, to be precise–one which existed only to remind the subjugated peoples of Roman rule (as if they needed a reminder), arose.  According to law, the Roman Empire was the legal and legitimate government, so paying the poll tax was permitted.  But God still demanded and deserved complete loyalty.  Anything else constituted idolatry–spiritual adultery–something which our Lord’s accusers had committed and were committing.

C. H. Dodd, in The Founder of Christianity (1970), wrote of Realized Eschatology.  The Kingdom of God, he insisted, has always been among us, for God

is king always and everywhere,

thus the Kingdom simply is; it does not arrive.  Yet, Dodd wrote,

There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized) becomes manifestly and effectively true.  Such a moment in history is reflected in the gospels.  The presence of God with men, a truth for all times and places, became an effective truth.  It became such (we must conclude) because of the impact that Jesus made; because in his words and actions it was presented with exceptional clarity and operative with exceptional power.

–All quotes and paraphrases from page 57 of the first Macmillan paperback edition, 1970

Our Lord’s challengers in Matthew 22:1-22 practiced a form of piety which depended on a relatively high amount of wealth, thereby excluding most people.  Our Savior’s accusers in Matthew 22:1-22 collaborated with an oppressive occupying force which made it difficult–sometimes impossible–to obey Torah.  Our Lord and Savior’s accusers were self-identified defenders of Torah.  How ironic!  How hypocritical!  How idolatrous!

Condemning the long-dead bad guys is easy.  But who are their counterparts today?  I propose that those who minimize or merely reduce the proper level of love in Christianity are among their ranks.  If we are to love one another as bearers of the Image of God—people in whom we are to see Christ and people to whom we are to extend the love of Christ–which prejudices do we (individually and collectively) need to abandon or never acquire?  Those who affirm such prejudices in the name of God are among the ranks of contemporary counterparts of those whom our Lord and Savior confronted in Matthew 22:1-22.  But the possibility of repentance remains.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DEDIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/jeremiah-and-matthew-part-ii-idolatry-spiritual-adultery/

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Week of Proper 15: Thursday, Year 2, and Week of Proper 15: Friday, Year 2   6 comments

Above:  The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, by Gustave Dore

Restoration

AUGUST 20 and 21, 2020

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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THE FIRST READING FOR THURSDAY

Ezekiel 36:22-28 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

[The word of the LORD came to me:]

Say to the House of Israel:  Thus said the Lord GOD:  Not for your sake will I act, O House of Israel, but for My holy name, which you have caused to be profaned among the nations–among whom you have caused it to be profaned.  And the nations shall know that I am the LORD

–declares the Lord GOD–

when I manifest my My holiness before their eyes through you.  I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean:  I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes.  And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you:  I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you.  Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules.  Then you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people and I will be your God.

THE FIRST READING FOR FRIDAY

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The hand of the LORD came upon me.  He took me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the valley.  It was full of bones.  He led me all around them; there were very many of them spread over the valley, and they were very dry.  He said to me,

O mortal, can these bones live again?

I replied,

O Lord GOD, only you know.

And He said to me,

Prophesy over these bones and say to them:  O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!  Thus said the Lord GOD to these bones:  I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live again.  I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you.  And I will put breath into you, and you shall live again.  And you shall know that I am the LORD!

I prophesied as I had been commanded.  And while I was prophesying, suddenly there was a sound of rattling, and the bones came together, bone to matching bone.  I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had grown, and skin had formed over them; but there was no breath in them.  Then He said to me,

Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, O mortal!  Say to the breath:  Thus said the Lord GOD:  Come, O breath, from the four winds, and breathe into these slain, that they may live again.

I prophesied as He commanded me.  The breath entered them, and they came to life and stood up on their feet, a vast multitude.

And He said to me,

O mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel.  They say, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed.”  Prophesy, therefore, and say to them:  Thus said the Lord GOD:  I am going to open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel.  You shall know, O My people, that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and lifted you out of your graves.  I will put My breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil.  Then you shall know that I the LORD have spoken and have acted

–declares the LORD.

THE RESPONSE FOR THURSDAY

Psalm 51:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

THE RESPONSE FOR FRIDAY

Psalm 107:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

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

and his mercy endures for ever.

2  Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim

that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

3  He gathered them out of the lands;

from the east and from the west,

from the north and from the south.

4  Some wandered in desert wastes;

they found no way to a city where they might dwell.

5  They were hungry and thirsty;

their spirits languished within them.

6  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

7  He put their feet on a straight path

to a city where they might dwell.

8  Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy

and the wonders he does for his children.

THE GOSPEL READING FOR THURSDAY

Matthew 22:1-14 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus began to talk to them again in parables.

The kingdom of Heaven,

he said,

is like a king who arranged a wedding-feast for his son.  He sent his servants to summon those who had been invited to the festivities, but they refused to come.  Then he tried again; he sent some more servants, saying to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Here is my banquet all ready, by bullocks and fat cattle have been slaughtered and everything is prepared.  Come along to the wedding.”‘  But they took no notice of this and went off, one to his farm, and another to his business.  As for the rest, they got hold of the servants, treated them with insults, and finally killed them.  At this the king was very angry and sent his troops and killed those murderers and burned down their city.  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding-feast is all ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it.  So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’  So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike.  And the hall became filled with guests.  But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding.  “How did you come in here, my friend,” he said to him, “without being properly dressed for the wedding?”  And the man had nothing to say.  Then the king said to the ushers, “Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside, where there will be tears and bitter regret!”  For many are invited but few are chosen.

THE GOSPEL READING FOR FRIDAY

Matthew 22:34-40 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they came up to him in a body, and one of them, an expert in the Law, put this test-question:

Master, what is the Law’s greatest commandment?

Jesus answered him,

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”  This is the first and great commandment.  And there is a second like it:  “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The readings from Ezekiel speak of the restoration of the people of the former Kingdom of Judah.  God will do this, the people will benefit greatly, and God will receive the glory.  What seemed impossible will become reality.

To know helplessness is a terrible feeling.  And to experience God’s restorative power is magnificent.  I have done both.  And, from experience, I testify that the memory of hopelessness and pain do not fade, but that, fortunately, the awareness of what God is doing and has done fills one with awe, wonder, and gratitude.

Recently (relative to the composition and typing of this post) I realized (almost as an afterthought) that the fifth anniversary of my previous life beginning to crumble had passed.  Fortunately, this did not inspire deep ire in me–mostly it brought up surprise.  Was that five years ago?  It feels like longer than that.  I am a different person now, after having passed through the fire, by grace.

Yes, dry bones can live again.

KRT