Archive for the ‘Psalm 138’ Tag

Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 12, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Esther--John Everett Millais

Above:  Esther, by John Everett Millais

Image in the Public Domain

Esther IV:  Fear Itself

JULY 27, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 4:1-17

Psalm 138

Luke 8:22-25

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Though I live surrounded by trouble

you give me life–to my enemies’ fury!

You stretch out your right hand and save me,

Yahweh will do all things for me.

Yahweh, your faithful love endures for ever,

do not abandon what you have made.

–Psalm 138:7-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The story in the Book of Esther resumes with the fourth chapter and includes the Greek addition The New American Bible labels Chapter C.  Mordecai and Esther digest the royal decree of genocide against the Jews.  Mordecai is not safe; neither is Esther, although she is the queen consort.  If she goes to visit Ahasuerus without him summoning her first, she risks death.  And if he does not order her death for that reason, he might have her killed for being Jewish.  In Chapter C Mordecai prays for God to deliver the Jews and Esther prays for guidance and for deliverance from fear.

Deliverance from fear occupies the core of Luke 8:22-25, in which Jesus calms a storm.  Although I affirm the proposition that he could have done that, I find the metaphor in the story helpful and the question of the literal story irrelevant to this post.  We experience storms in life.  Sometimes God delivers us from them.  On other occasions, however, God accompanies us through them and delivers us from fear instead.

Esther was correct to know fear.  Ahasuerus had probably ordered the death of Queen Vashti, whose offense had been to refuse to degrade herself.  He was also an easily manipulated monarch through whom others, especially Haman, governed.  Ahasuerus was not powerless, however, for he had the authority to order the execution of someone who went to him uninvited.  Furthermore, he had just ordered genocide against Esther’s people, the Jews.  She could have yielded to fear and laid low.  Esther could have preserved herself at the expense of her fellow Jews, but she found her courage and prayed,

O God, whose power is over all, hear the voice of those in despair.  Save us from the power of the wicked, and deliver me from my fear.

–Esther C:30, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

On March 4, 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said,

…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Out of fear we human beings become more stingy and selfish.  Out of fear we think and act hatefully toward others or merely condone the hateful actions of others.  Out of fear we retreat into passivity when the occasion demands courageous actions.  Out of fear we violate the Golden Rule, often while assuring ourselves of our imagined righteousness.

May we trust in God and act courageously, according to the Golden Rule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/esther-iv-fear-itself/

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Devotion for Friday Before Proper 12, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Caiaphas

Above:  Caiaphas

Image in the Public Domain

Esther III:  National Security

JULY 26, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 3:7-15

Psalm 138

Acts 2:22-36

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Though I live surrounded by trouble

you give me life–to my enemies’ fury!

You stretch out your right hand and save me,

Yahweh will do all things for me.

Yahweh, your faithful love endures for ever,

do not abandon what you have made.

–Psalm 138:7-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The story in Esther picks up at the point at which Haman persuades Ahasuerus to order genocide against the Jews.  The official reason for the decree, according to the royal decree (as contained in Chapter B, as The New American Bible labels it) is national security.  The Jews allegedly follow laws which set them at opposition to all other people and to royal decrees.  The official purpose of the planned genocide is to restore the stability of the Persian Empire.  The actual reasons, of course, are Haman’s egotism and anti-Semitism.  As Dr. Samuel Johnson stated,

Patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel.

The reading from Acts 2 concerns the crucifixion of Jesus.  Roman imperial personnel executed Jesus, of course, but certain Jewish religious leaders were complicit in the unjust act.  As Caiaphas said in John 11:50,

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

National security is a legitimate concern, one which requires difficult decisions sometimes.  Nevertheless, genocide is never a justifiable practice.  Just as national security has its place, so does patriotism.  My point is that some scoundrels hide behind these virtues and convince other people to support them in unjust actions.  I would like to be a pacifist, but my sense of reality prevents me from doing that.  I do propose, however, that most violence is immoral and unnecessary.  This is especially true of the violence planned in Esther 3 and the crucifixion of Jesus.

There is a proper balance between individual rights and the common good.  There is also such a thing as the tyranny of the majority or of a powerful minority.  The common good, by definition, cannot justify genocide or judicial murder.  Those with power have no moral right to victimize any person or population.  And nobody has a moral right to be complicit in such a plot or effort.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/esther-iii-national-security/

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Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 12, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Mordecai and Haman

Above:  Mordecai and Haman

Image in the Public Domain

Esther II:  Heroes and Villains

JULY 25, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 2:19-3:6

Psalm 138

Acts 1:15-20

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I praise your name for your faithful love and your constancy;

your promises surpass even your fame.

–Psalm 138:2b, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The plot thickens in Esther 2 and 3.  Mordecai thwarts an assassination plot against King Ahasuerus.  The two eunuchs who plotted to kill the monarch die after Mordecai alerts Ahasuerus via Queen Esther.  The loyal courtier receives no reward immediately; he must wait until Chapter 6 for Ahasuerus to think about doing that.  Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, who receives a promotion for no apparent reason and who seeks to destroy not just Mordecai but all Jews in the Persian Empire.

The reason for Mordecai’s refusal to bow down is unclear in the Hebrew text.  However, in Chapter C, as The New American Bible labels it, Mordecai explains in a prayer that he bows only to God.  This is consistent with a later rabbinical interpretation.  The germane notes in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) mention that argument yet prefers a different explanation, that Mordecai refused to honor an enemy of the Jews.  Those notes also argue that, in the Hebrew Bible, bowing to a human superior is permissible, as in Genesis 23:7; Genesis 43:28; Exodus 18:7; and 1 Kings 1:23.  Another interpretation from Jewish tradition is that, if Haman were wearing an idol on his chest, Mordecai would have bowed refused to bow to the object.

In the Acts of the Apostles the eleven surviving Apostles completed their number (twelve) by choosing one of the outer circle of 70 (or 72, depending on the translation) to replace the recently deceased Judas Iscariot.  They select St. Matthias, of whom we know little.  According to tradition he was a faithful evangelist who brought much glory to God and many people to salvation before becoming a martyr.

The main characters in the readings for today are Mordecai, Haman, and St. Matthias.  Haman seeks to glorify himself and harm others, Mordecai to glorify God and do his duty, and St. Matthias to glorify God, regardless of the cost to himself.  Two of the three died violently, one as a villain and the other as a martyr.

May we pursue righteousness, as demonstrated in the characters of Mordecai and St. Matthias and manifested by love of God and our fellow human beings, regardless of the cost to ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/esther-ii-heroes-and-villains/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 16, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Foundation of the Tower of Antonia

Above:  Foundation of the Tower of Antonia, Jerusalem, Palestine, 1921

Image Creators = Jamal Brothers

Image Source = Library of Congress

Exile and Restoration

AUGUST 26, 2017

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The Collect:

O God, with all your faithful followers in every age, we praise you, the rock of our life.

Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son,

that we may gladly minister to all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 36:33-38

Psalm 138

Matthew 16:5-12

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All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,

for they have heard the words of your mouth.

They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,

that great is the glory of the Lord.

–Psalm 138:4-5, Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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That was part of the vision of the Book of Ezekiel.  The theology of that text held that exile was divine punishment for persistent national sins and that God would act mightily to restore the fortunes of Israel for the glory of the divine name and the benefit of the people.  Surely such an impressive act would convince many skeptical people that God (YHWH) was not only real but great.  It was a hopeful vision, but life in post-exilic Judea fell far short of those expectations.  At the time of Christ the Roman Empire ruled in military might and with economic exploitation, with the collaboration of Jerusalem Temple officials in Jerusalem.  The exilic experience persisted, with the ironic twist that the exiles were home.

We human beings have a tendency to use logic to confirm our opinions.  Thus we tend to seek prooftexts, cherry-pick evidence, and seek not to become “confused by the facts.”  This reality helps to explain much political discord, especially when disputing partisans cannot agree even on the definition of objective reality.

Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed on many substantive issues, but members of both camps were in league with the Roman Empire and challenged Jesus.  Of course their stations in life and their theological opinions reinforced each other in a repeating feedback loop, but I suspect that many Sadducees and Pharisees were sincere in their doctrine.  They followed the Law of Moses as they understood it and recalled lessons from Hebrew tradition about the relationship between national sin and fortunes.  And certainly they understood our Lord and Savior as a threat in the overlapping realms of economics, politics, and religion.

I know which side I support, for I am a Christian, a partisan of Christ.  Both the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to perpetuate forms of piety dependent on wealth.  Peasants could not find enough time to keep all the Pharisaic rules and regulations, for they had to work for so many hours.  And Sadducees, who rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, channeled considerable efforts into maintaining aristocratic status and estates for the next generation to inherit.  That brought them into disagreement with Jesus.

Exile can assume many forms.  People can be in exile at home or abroad, physically or spiritually.  Exiles might not even know that they are in exile and therefore in need of restoration.  Informing such exiles of their actual status might prompt not return, restoration, and gratitude but hostility and even violence.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will preserve me;

you will stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;

your right hand will save me.

The Lord shall make good his purpose for me;

your loving-kindness, O Lord, endures for ever;

forsake not the work of your hands.

–Psalm 138:7-8, Book of Common Prayer (2004)

The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (1956), page 266, offers a germane analysis:

God does not impose his gracious purpose on us, but waits until we ourselves desire it of him.  We sometimes hear it argued that if God is really eager to bless us, he will give up now what we need and not wait till we ask him.  But is that so?  Surely God is never concerned merely to give us things, but only in and through what he gives us to train to be his children, true men and women.  He can adequately bless us only when we ourselves are ready and eager for his blessing.  Thus some of us discover for the first time what if it really means to relish our food–because we come to it hungry.  It is as simple as that.

So, how eager are you, O reader, to receive the grace God has for you and the responsibilities which come with it?  Grace is free to us; we cannot purchase it.  But it is not cheap, for it costs us much.  Many have even died in faithful response.  They have died as free people–not exiles–in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

THE FEAST OF JOHN MOORE WALKER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF WALTER CRONKITE, JOURNALIST

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This post owes much to the scholarship of Richard Horsley.  Perhaps the most compact book in his oeuvre is Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2003).

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/exile-and-restoration/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 16, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Church of the Multiplication

Above:  Byzantine Mosaic, Church of the Multiplication, Taghba, Israel

Image in the Public Domain

Living Compassionately

AUGUST 24 and 25, 2017

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The Collect:

O God, with all your faithful followers in every age, we praise you, the rock of our life.

Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son,

that we may gladly minister to all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 28:11-19 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 31:15-18 (Friday)

Psalm 138 (Both Days)

1 Corinthians 6:1-11 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 10:12-18 (Friday)

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The LORD is high, yet the LORD cares for the lowly

and perceives the haughty from afar.

–Psalm 138:6, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The assigned readings for these two days focus on the question of how we should treat others as opposed to how we behave toward them much of the time.  Exploitation comes in more than one form; economic, judicial, and sexual varieties of such bad behavior come to mind immediately.  That which builds one up at the expense of others–by taking from them wrongly or denying them what they should have–is immoral.  Yet many people already wealthy pile up more riches by taking from those who have less or by denying others that which they ought to have–sufficient means–by right.  Yes, I am writing about greed, a predatory force.

The essence of compassion is to dethrone oneself from the center of one’s life or never to place oneself there.  Selfishness (of which greed is a symptom) can result from a variety of issues, including two related to the ego.  One is pride–hubris, to be precise.  Taking pride in one’s work is positive, for it contributes to better work.  Yet hubris goes before the fall.  This is a phenomenon of the ego run amok.  I have known this temptation and yielded to it in the realm of intellectual arrogance.  The causes were understandable, given the circumstances, but that fact did not–and still does not–constitute an excuse or justification.  I continue to struggle with intellectual arrogance at times, but at least I know about the problem and recognize it as such.  I am imperfect, but I have made progress, by grace.   At the opposite end of the spectrum is the inferiority complex.  People with this problem who do not deal with it constructively lead self-centered lives dedicated to making themselves feel better about themselves.  (I have one person, who will remain unnamed in this post, in mind.)  In cases of both extremes the offenders injure themselves and others, for what one person does affects others.  That is the way of the universe.

To have a balanced ego is the better course.  And following the advice of St. Paul the Apostle to boast only of the Lord is a spiritually healthy path to take in life.  The desire to do these things is a good start, one possible only by grace.  This desire might constitute our proverbial few loaves of bread and fishes, and therefore seem woefully inadequate for the task.  It is inadequate for the task, of course, but God can multiply it.  This is not about what we do.  No, it is about what God does.  Our task is to cooperate with God–to be the faithful ministers of grace God calls us to be.  May we, by grace, serve effectively, thereby glorifying God and helping others–building them up as God leads us to do.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

THE FEAST OF JOHN MOORE WALKER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF WALTER CRONKITE, JOURNALIST

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/living-compassionately/

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Devotion for November 30 in Ordinary Time (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

christ-with-beard

Above:  Christ with Beard

Image in the Public Domain

Subversive Compassion

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 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:

Isaiah 6:1-7:9

Psalm 61 (Morning)

Psalms 138 and 98 (Evening)

1 Peter 2:13-25

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I have covered the reading from Isaiah already, so I refer you, O reader, to the labeled links for them.  At this time and place I choose to say the following:  A pressing question for many Christians in the latter portion of the first century C.E. was whether one could be both a good Christian and a good Roman.  Also, the author of 1 Peter assumed that Jesus would be back quite soon to sort out the world order.  As I write these words, our Lord has not returned. The world order is what we have made it; may we exercise our agency responsibly to improve it.  This does involve resisting authority sometimes, as in the case of tyrannical governments.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  Many faithful Christians–Protestants and Roman Catholics–sheltered Jews and resisted the Third Reich.  And, throughout church history, bishops have called monarchs to account.

We who read and interpret the Bible must be careful to read it as a whole, not to fixate so much on certain passages that we ignore inconvenient ones and distort the composite meaning of the texts.  There is something called confirmation bias, which means that we tend to pay attention to evidence which supports our opinions and ignore or dismiss that which does not.  I look for this in myself and try to safeguard against prooftexting, the confirmation bias method of misreading the Bible.

I keep returning to the example Jesus set.  (I am a professing Christian, literally a “partisan of Christ.”)  He violated many religious customs, some of them from the Law of Moses itself.  He seems to have favored compassion over any other factor when they came into conflict.  And he taught this ethic with his words.  So we have in our Lord the union of words and deeds favoring compassion above all else in guiding our actions toward others.  Compassion trumps all else.

As much as I disagree with those aspects of Christian traditions which deal favorably with tyrants and dictators, justify servitude, and smile upon gender inequality, I find Jesus to be the strong counterpoint to them.  Somewhere–very soon after our Lord’s time on the planet ended–the church began to accommodate itself–frequently in ways inconsistent with Christ–to the Roman Empire.  Jesus was a subversive.  I mean this as a compliment.  I follow the subversive, or at least I try to do so.  If I am to be an honest Christian, this is what I must do.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 3, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN OWEN SMITH, UNITED METHODIST BISHOP IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY IN ASIA

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Devotion for November 2 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Пророк_Иеремия,_Микеланжело_Буонаротти

Above:  The Prophet Jeremiah, from the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, by Michelango Buonarroti

Image in the Public Domain

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part I:  Those Whom God Has Qualified Then Called

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2017

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2018

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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 1:1-19

Psalm 61 (Morning)

Psalms 138 and 98 (Evening)

Matthew 21:23-46

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So I will always sing praise to your name,

and day by day fulfill my vows.

–Psalm 61:8, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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So will I always sing praise to your name:

while I daily perform my vows.

–Psalm 61:8, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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Then Jesus said, “Truly I tell you:  tax-collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For when John came to show you the right way to live, you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and prostitutes did; and even when you had seen that, you did not change your minds and believe him.

–Matthew 21:31b-32, The Revised English Bible

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Prostitutes were prostitutes.  Tax collectors were people who stole from their fellow countrymen to fund the occupying Roman Empire.  Both were among the “notorious sinners,” many of whom became dining companions of Jesus.  Before that many of them had headed advice from St. John the Baptist.

In contrast, many professional religious people, being invested in the corrupt Temple system, rejected both Jesus and St. John the Baptist.  That system depended on offerings, which were especially onerous burdens imposed on peasants already struggling under Roman taxation.  Jesus, of course, confronted that corrupt Temple system, which constituted part of collaboration with the imperium.

So, in the tradition of the last being first and the first being last, repentant prostitutes and tax collectors preceded many respectable religious professionals in the Kingdom of God.  That statement must have rung harshly in the ears of the respectable religious professionals who heard it.

But, as God told the young Prophet Jeremiah, God does not call the qualified.  No, God qualifies the called.  And, even when one’s mission is to preach the truth to those who will refuse to heed sage words, but will instead plot violence against the one who utters them, God will protect that prophet if his name is Jeremiah.  St. John the Baptist died.  So did Jesus.  The latter arose after a few days, of course.

So, O reader, which spot do you occupy?  Are you a prophet or a repentant prostitute or tax collector, at least metaphorically?  Or are you more like one of the vilified chief priests and Temple elders?  And what is God calling you to become next?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 9, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE FEAST OF THOMAS TOKE LYNCH, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ANNA LAETITIA WARING, HUMANITARIAN AND HYMN WRITER; AND HER UNCLE, SAMUEL MILLER WARING, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, BISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS WILLIBALD OF EICHSTATT AND LULLUS OF MAINZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT WALBURGA OF HEIDENHELM, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; SAINTS PETRONAX OF MONTE CASSINO, WINNEBALD OF HEIDENHELM, WIGBERT OF FRITZLAR, AND STURMIUS OF FULDA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS; AND SAINT SEBALDUS OF VINCENZA, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT AND MISSIONARY

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/jeremiah-and-matthew-part-i-those-whom-god-has-qualified-then-called/

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