Archive for the ‘St. John the Baptist’ Tag

Devotion for the Feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, Years A, B, C, and D (May 31) (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Embrace of Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary

Image in the Public Domain

Humility and Arrogance

TRANSFERRED FROM MAY 31 TO JUNE 1 IN 2020

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The Collect:

Almighty God, in choosing the virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son,

you made known your gracious regard for the poor and the lowly and the despised.

Grant us grace to receive your Word in humility, and so made one with your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 33

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Psalm 113

Romans 12:9-16b

Luke 1:39-57

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Depending on the date of Easter, and therefore of Pentecost, the Feast of the Visitation can fall in either the season of Easter or the Season after Pentecost.

The history of the Feast of the Visitation has been a varied one.  The feast, absent in Eastern Orthodoxy, began in 1263, when St. Bonaventure introduced it to the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans), which he led.  Originally the date was July 2, after the octave of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24).  Pope Urban VI approved the feast in 1389, the Council of Basel authorized it in 1441, propers debuted in the Sarum breviary of 1494, and Pope Pius V added the feast to the general calendar in 1561.  In 1969, during the pontificate of Paul VI, Holy Mother Church moved the Feast of the Visitation to May 31, in lieu of the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which Pope Pius XII had instituted in 1954.  The Episcopal Church added the Feast of the Visitation to its calendar in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  The feast had long been July 2 in The Church of England and much of Lutheranism prior to 1969.  Subsequent liturgical revision led to the transfer of the feast to May 31 in those traditions.

The corresponding Eastern Orthodox feast on July 2 commemorates the placing of the Holy Robe of the Mother of God in the church at Blachernae, a suburb of Constantinople.

The theme of humility is prominent in the assigned readings and in the Lutheran collect I have quoted.  A definition of that word might therefore prove helpful.  The unabridged Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language (1951), a tome, defines humility as

Freedom from pride and arrogance; humbleness of mind; a modest estimate of one’s own worth; also, self-abasement, penitence for sin.

Humility refers to lowliness and, in the Latin root, of being close to the ground.  God raising up the lowly is a Lukan theme, as is God overthrowing the arrogant.  After all, the woes (Luke 6:24-26) follow the Beatitudes (6:20-25), where Jesus says,

Blessed are you who are poor,

not

Blessed are you who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3).

The first will be last and the last will be first, after all.

Wherever you are, O reader, you probably live in a society that celebrates the boastful, the arrogant.  The assigned readings for this day contradict that exultation of the proud, however.  They are consistent with the ethic of Jeremiah 9:22-23:

Yahweh says this,

“Let the sage not boast of wisdom,

nor the valiant of valour,

nor the wealthy of riches!

But let anyone who wants to boast, boast of this:

of understanding and knowing me.

For I am Yahweh, who acts with faithful love,

justice, and uprightness on earth;

yes, these are what please me,”

Yahweh declares.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

St. Paul the Apostle channeled that ethic in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17, among other passages.

That which he understood well and internalized, not without some struggle, remains relevant and timeless.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN-WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/devotion-for-the-feast-of-the-visitation-of-mary-to-elizabeth-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 27, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Moses and the Burning Bush

Above:   Moses and the Burning Bush

Image in the Public Domain

Human Traditions and Divine Authority

NOVEMBER 9, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 3:13-20

Psalm 17:1-9

Luke 20:1-8

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Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down, you will find no impurity in me.

–Psalm 17:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Moses had been a fugitive from Egyptian justice from Exodus 2.  Egyptian juris prudence frowned upon killing taskmasters in charge of slaves (2:11-15).  Moses was safely distant from Egypt and hopefully happily married when God called him to return to Egypt, to participate in the liberation of the Hebrews.  In reply to the request for a name, God provided a non-name, indicating the absence of human control over the divine.

Throughout the long narrative of the Bible prophets were frequently inconvenient to people in authority.  There were false prophets who agreed with the monarchs who favored them, but prophets of God were often in the faces of kings.  St. John the Baptist, standing in this tradition, ran afoul of religious authorities and Herod Antipas.  Jesus, greater than the prophets, had many confrontations with religious authorities and proved to be a better debater than any of them.  God was doing a new thing via Jesus, and religious authorities, wedded to their traditions and collaborating with the Roman Empire, found it threatening.

Tradition itself is not bad; neither is it inherently good.  Tradition is simply that which one generation passes down to another.  The best question to ask in this context is the one which evaluates any given tradition on its merits.  May we avoid becoming so attached to our traditions that we oppose the work of God, who is beyond our control.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/human-traditions-and-divine-authority/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 26, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Archelaus

Above:   Archelaus

Image in the Public Domain

Deeds and Creeds

NOVEMBER 6, 2019

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The Collect:

Merciful God, gracious and benevolent,

through your Son you invite all the world to a meal of mercy.

Grant that we may eagerly follow this call,

and bring us with all your saints into your life of justice and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Amos 5:12-14

Psalm 50

Luke 19:11-27

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“Consider this well, you who forget God,

lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.

Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me;

but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God.”

–Psalm 50:23-24, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The traditional title for the pericope from Luke 19 is the Parable of the Pounds.  That reading is superficially similar to the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), which teaches the imperative of diligence in the work of God.  In the case of Luke 19:11-27, however, the real point is quite different.

Textual context matters.  Immediately prior to the parable we read of our Lord and Savior’s encounter with Zacchaeus, a man who worked as a tax collector for the Roman Empire.  He was a literal tax thief, although, as we read, he changed his ways and made more restitution than the Law of Moses required.  Immediately after the parable Jesus enters Jerusalem at the beginning of that fateful Holy Week.  The story of Zacchaeus explains verse 11a (“As they were listening to this”); the context of the impending Triumphal Entry is crucial to understanding the pericope which Volume IX (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible calls “The Parable of the Greedy and Vengeful King.”

The nobleman in the parable resembles members of the Herodian Dynasty, especially Archelaus (reigned 4 B.C.E.-6 C.E.), son of Herod the Great (reigned 47-4 B.C.E.), Governor of Galilee then the client king of the Jews.  Herod the Great, who traveled to Rome to seek the title of king, reigned as one because the Roman Republic then Empire granted him that title.  He was also a cruel man.  Biblical and extra-Biblical sources agree on this point, constituting a collection of stories of his tyranny and cruelty.  In Matthew 2 he ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, for example.  Archelaus, a son of Herod the Great, ruled as the Roman-appointed ethnarch of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, after traveling to Rome.  Archelaus sought the title of King, which the Emperor Augustus denied him after meeting with a delegation of Jews.  Archelaus, mentioned by name in Matthew 2:22, was also cruel and tyrannical, victimizing Jews and Samaritans alike.  On one day alone he ordered the massacre of 3000 people at the Temple precinct in Jerusalem.  Eventually Augustus deposed him.  Herod Antipas, full brother of Archelaus, ruled on behalf of the Roman Empire as the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C.E. to 39 C.E., when he sought the title of King and found himself banished to Gaul instead.  Antipas, a chip off the old block, ordered the execution of St. John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-10) and sought to kill Jesus, who called the tetrarch “that fox” (Luke 13:32).

A trope in the interpretation of parables of Jesus is that one of the characters represents God.  That does not apply accurately to the parable in Luke 19:11-27.  In fact, the unnamed nobleman, who orders the execution of his political opponents, is an antitype of Jesus, who enters Jerusalem triumphantly in the next pericope and dies on the cross a few days later, at the hands of Roman officials.  The Kingdom of God is quite different from the Roman Empire, built on violence and exploitation.  The kingship of Jesus is quite different from the model that the Roman Empire offers.

Amos 5 condemns those in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah who profess to follow Yahweh, yet oppose the establishment of justice, especially for the needy.  There is nothing wrong with religious rituals themselves, but engaging in them while perpetuating injustice makes a mockery of them.  God is unimpressed, we read.

God, in Psalm 50, addresses those who recite divine statutes yet do not keep them, who think wrongly that God is like them.  They will not find deliverance in God, we read.  That Psalm fits well with Amos 5, of course.  Then there are the evildoers who do not even pretend to honor God and do not change their ways.  Their path is doomed in the long run also.

One must reject the false dichotomy of deeds versus creeds.  In actuality, I argue, deeds reveal creeds.  One might detect a dichotomy between deeds and words, but, barring accidents, no dichotomy between deeds and creeds exists.

What do your deeds reveal about your creeds, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, APOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/deeds-and-creeds/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 29, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Seleucid Empire

Above:  Map of the Seleucid Empire

Image in the Public Domain

Dashed Hopes and the Faithfulness of God

NOVEMBER 24, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever.

Grant that all the people of the earth,

now divided by the power of sin,

may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 7:1-8, 15-18

Psalm 93

John 3:31-36

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You, O LORD, are Sovereign;

you have put on splendid apparel;

you, O LORD, have put on your apparel

and girded yourself with strength.

You have made the whole world so sure

that it cannot be moved;

ever since the world began, your throne has been established;

you are from everlasting.

The waters have lifted up, O LORD,

the waters have lifted up their voice;

the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the sound of many waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea,

mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

Your testimonies are very sure,

and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,

forever and forevermore.

–Psalm 93, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Sometimes our expectations exceed reality as events unfold.

The expectations in Daniel 7:1-8 and 15-18 was that, after the fall of the Seleucid Empire (extant 312-64 B.C.E.),

holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess the kingdom forever–forever and ever.

–Daniel 7:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Seleucid Empire fell for several reasons, including weak leadership, pressures from the Armenians, and the expansion of the Roman Republic, soon to become the Roman Empire.  The fully realized Kingdom of God on Earth did not come to pass in 64 B.C.E. or at any time between then and the day I am writing these words.

St. John the Baptist had apocalyptic expectations regarding Jesus (Luke 3).  The clearly labeled voice of the forerunner said in John 3:30 (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),

He must increase, but I must decrease.

But who is speaking in John 3:31-36?  My reading has revealed three possibilities:

  1. St. John the Baptist, for the text indicates no change of speaker;
  2. Jesus, perhaps cut and pasted from the conversation with Nicodemus earlier in the chapter; or
  3. the author of the Fourth Gospel, making one of his occasional explanatory comments to the readers.

Either way, the pericope’s comment about the fidelity of God is what interest me.  Jesus did not fulfill the apocalyptic expectations of St. John the Baptist, but that fact did nothing to belie the fidelity of God.  The apocalyptic expectations of Daniel 7:1-8 and 15-18 proved baseless, but that fact has not disproved the fidelity of God.  Sometimes we human beings hope for events which never happen, at least as we anticipate.  Some of these dashed expectations have passed into the canon of scripture.  Nevertheless, the hope that one day God will abolish the world order built on violence and artificial scarcity and replace it with justice remains a valid promise.  God will keep it faithfully in divine time, if not according to human expectations.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/dashed-hopes-and-the-faithfulness-of-god/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 25, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ in Majesty Icon

Above:  Icon of Christ in Majesty

Image in the Public Domain

Prejudices and Prophecy

OCTOBER 25, 26, and 27, 2018

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The Collect:

Eternal light, shine in our hearts.

Eternal wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance.

Eternal compassion, have mercy on us.

Turn us to seek your face, and enable us to reflect your goodness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 23:9-16 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 26:12-24 (Friday)

Jeremiah 29:24-32 (Saturday)

Psalm 126 (All Days)

Hebrews 7:1-10 (Thursday)

Hebrews 7:11-22 (Friday)

Mark 8:22-26 (Saturday)

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When the Lord turned again the fortunes of Zion:

then we were like men restored to life.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter:

and our tongue with singing.

Then said they among the heathen:

“The Lord has done great things for them.”

Truly the Lord has done great things for us:

and therefore we rejoiced.

Turn again our fortunes, O Lord:

as the streams return to the dry south.

Those that sow in tears:

shall reap with songs of joy.

He who goes out weeping bearing the seed:

shall come again in gladness, bringing his sheaves with him.

–Psalm 126, Alternative Prayer Book 1984

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The prophet Jeremiah labored faithfully for and argued with God during especially dangerous times.  The Kingdom of Judah was a vassal state, false prophets were numerous, and true prophets were targets of the theocratic royal regime.  The process of exiling populations had begun, and the full-scale Babylonian Exile had not started yet.  False prophets predicted a glorious future and condemned faithful prophets.  Yet even Jeremiah, who predicted doom and gloom, stated that divine deliverance and restoration would come in time.

The appearance of Melchizedek in Genesis 14:17-21 linked Abram/Abraham to the Davidic Dynasty, for Melchizedek was the King of Salem (Jerusalem).  Hebrews 7 linked Melchizedek to Jesus (“resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever”–verse 3b, The New Revised Standard Version).  At the end of the line of faithful Hebrew prophets (ending with St. John the Baptist) stands Jesus, greater than all of them.  He is, as Hebrews 7:22 states,

the guarantee of a better covenant.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Jesus, permanently a priest (7:24), is the Messiah (“Christ” in Greek) unbounded by time.  Now he exists beyond human capacity to harm him, but he did die via crucifixion.  There was a resurrection, fortunately.

Often we mortals desire to hear words which confirm our prejudices and belie hard truths.  Perhaps we know sometimes that what we want to hear is inaccurate, but we accept it anyway because doing so is bearable.  Or perhaps we are so deluded that we cannot distinguish between true and false prophecy, prophecy often having more to do with the present day and the near future than the more distant future.  Yet, even when we seek to distinguish between true and false prophecy, our ignorance can prove to be a major obstacle.  I know of no easy way out of this conundrum.  No, the best advice I can offer is to seek to live according to affirming human dignity and loving others as one loves oneself.  Following the Golden Rule is sound advice.  One might err in the execution of it, but I propose that God will not condemn one for loving one’s neighbors.  As for the details of prophecy, they will unfold according to course.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/prejudices-and-prophecy/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 19, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies (James Tissot)

Above:  The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

The Faith of Rahab

SEPTEMBER 13, 14, and 15, 2018

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The Collect:

O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation,

and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives.

Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil,

take up our cross, and follow your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Joshua 2:1-14 (Thursday)

Joshua 2:15-24 (Friday)

Joshua 6:22-27 (Saturday)

Psalm 116 (All Days)

Hebrews 11:17-22 (Thursday)

James 2:17-26 (Friday)

Matthew 21:23-32 (Saturday)

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I will walk in the presence of the LORD

in the land of the living.

–Psalm 116:9, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The readings from Joshua tell of Rahab, a prostitute, and her family, all of Jericho.  “Rahab” might not have been her name, as a note from The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) informs me:

Rahab could be an actual name (compare Rehoboam), but probably indicates her profession, the house of Rahab meaning most likely “brothel.”  The Aram. Tg. and most medieval exegetes interpreted “zonah” as innkeeper, from the root “z-w-n,” yet the Rabbis also acknowledge the ordinary meaning, prostitute (b. Zevah. 116.2).

–Page 443

I refer to her as “Rahab,” for that is the label the text provides me.  The story in Joshua 2 and 6 starts with Israelite spies visiting her.  Why not?  Surely, given her profession, Rahab had heard much information the spies needed to know.  She sheltered these spies, helped them escape, and gained safety for herself and her family when the city fell.

Rahab might have seemed like an unlikely heroine, given her profession.  Yet Matthew 1:5 lists her as the mother of Boaz (as in the Book of Ruth) and an ancestor of Jesus.  We know that, given biology, many women were involved in the generations of reproduction which led to the birth of St. Joseph of Nazareth but the genealogy in Matthew 1 identifies only three:

  1. Rahab (1:5),
  2. Ruth (1:5), and
  3. Bathsheba (“Uriah’s wife,” 1:6).

Two of these women were foreigners, and two had questionable sexual reputations.  When we add St. Mary of Nazareth to the list of women in the genealogy of Jesus, we raise the count of women with sexual scandal tied to their lives to three.  Furthermore, Hebrews 11:31 tells us:

By faith the prostitute Rahab escaped the fate of the unbelievers, because she had given the spies a kindly welcome.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

And when we turn to James 2:25, we read:

Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Our Lord and Savior, whose family tree included, among others, a prostitute, an unfaithful wife, Gentiles, and a young woman tainted by scandal, turned out well.  He was a figure of great authority who challenged the Temple system, which depended and preyed upon those who could least afford to finance it.  The Temple was also the seat of collaboration with the Roman Empire, built on violence and economic exploitation.  So, when Jesus challenged the Temple system, defenders of it, challenged him.  Jesus was, of course, the superior debater.  After trapping them in a question about the source of authority of St. John the Baptist, he went on to entrap them in a question (21:30), the answer of which condemned them.  Then he said to them:

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

–Matthew 21:31b-32, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Jesus died a few days later.  Those he confronted had powerful economic reasons to maintain the Temple system, and the annual celebration of the Passover–or national liberation by God–was nigh.  The Roman authorities had law-and-order reasons for crucifying him.  It was a miscarriage of justice, of course.

Those chief priests and elders in Matthew 21 should have had the faith of Rahab, a prostitute.

JUNE 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/the-faith-of-rahab/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 12, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

St. Edward's, Lawrenceville

Above:  St. Edward’s Episcopal Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia, October 19, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Four Banquets

AUGUST 1, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 25:6-10a

Psalm 111

Mark 6:35-44

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He has provided food for his worshippers;

he remembers his covenant for ever.

–Psalm 111:5, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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This is a post about four banquets:  the divine coronation feast in Isaiah 25:6-10a, the sordid feast of Herod Antipas in Mark 6:14-29, the Feeding of the 5000 (Plus) in Mark 6:30-44, and the Holy Eucharist.

The reading from Isaiah 25 speaks of a time immediately after Yahweh has defeated pride, evil, and sorrow, and established the Kingdom of God, in its fullness, on the Earth.  This is a time in our future.  All people are welcome at Yahweh’s coronation feast, to take place on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.  All is well, except for those whom God has vanquished, namely the Moabites (25:10).

Our next two banquets, which stand is stark contrast to each other, come from Mark 6.  The first is a sordid event, with Herod Antipas lusting after the seductive Salome (whose name and image come to us via archaeology, not the Bible) and making a hasty promise which leads to the execution of St. John the Baptist.  The Herodian family tree was complicated, for both Herodias and her daughter, Salome, were granddaughters of Herod the Great via different women.  Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great via a third woman, married Herodias, who had been the wife of a half-brother of Herod Antipas.  Thus Salome was the step-daughter and a cousin of Herod Antipas.

I will not attempt to explain the Feeding the 5000 (Plus) rationally, for doing that constitutes seeking an answer to the wrong question.  (And I am more of a rationalist than a mystic.)  Neither will I try to explain Jesus walking on water (next in Mark 6) logically, for the same reason.  No, I am interested in answering the question which compelled one of my spiritual mentors whenever he studied any passage of scripture:

What is really going on here?

The Markan account of the Feeding of the 5000 men (no word about the number of women and children) uses imagery from elsewhere in the Bible.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd feeding the flock.  His feeding of the multitude exceeds Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44) and Elijah’s miracle of the refilling jug of oil (1 Kings 17:8-16).  The messianic banquet, an echo of Isaiah 25:6-10a, recurs in the wilderness motif in subsequent pseudipigraphal works, such as in 2 Baruch 29:4 and 4 Ezra 6:52.  Two main ideas stand out in my mind:

  1. Jesus is greater than Elijah and Elisha (see Mark 6:15, in which some people thought that Jesus was Elijah), and
  2. Nothing we bring to Jesus is inadequate in his capable hands.  There will be leftovers after he has finished working with it.  We are insufficient by ourselves yet more than sufficient in Christ.  That is what grace can effect.

The eucharistic imagery in Mark 6 points to the fourth banquet, which I, as an Episcopalian, celebrate at least once weekly.  The Holy Eucharist has constituted the core of my spiritual life since childhood.  One reason I left the United Methodism of my youth was to have the opportunities to partake of the sacrament more often.  In the Holy Eucharist I meet Jesus in the forms of bread and wine and swear loyalty to him again.  No, I am not worthy on my merit (such as it is) to do this, but I rely on his merits to make me worthy to do so.  The first step to becoming worthy is acknowledging one’s unworthiness.

The contrast between human systems built on the foundation of violence, exploitation, and oppression on one hand and the Kingdom of God on the other hand is clear.  Injustice and artificial scarcity characterize the former, but justice and abundance for all distinguish the latter.  We can experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, which is partially present already, but we await the fullness of the Kingdom.  Until then we can, at least, leave the world better off than we found it.  No effort toward this goal is too little in Christ’s capable hands.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

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

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/four-banquets/

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