Week of 6 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Logo of the Mennonite Church U.S.A.

This is the Season of God’s Patience

FEBRUARY 15, 2017

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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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Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22 (Revised English Bible):

At the end of forty days Noah opened the hatch that he had made in the ark, and sent out a raven; it continued flying to and fro until the water on the earth had dried up.  Then Noah sent out a dove to see whether the water of the earth had subsided.  But the dove found no place where she could settle because all the earth was under water, and and so she came back to him in the ark.  Noah reached out and caught her, and brought her into the ark.  He waited seven days more and again sent the dove from the ark.  She came back to him towards evening with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her beak.  Noah knew that the water had subsided from the earth’s surface.  He waited yet another seven days, and, when he sent out the dove, she did not come back to him.  So it came about that month, on the first day of the first month of his six hundred and first year, the water had dried up on the earth, and when Noah removed the hatch and looked out, he saw that the ground was dry.

Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking beasts and birds of every kind that were ritually clean, he offered them as whole-offerings on it.  When the LORD smelt the soothing odour, he said within himself,

Never again shall I put the earth under a curse because of mankind, however evil their inclination may be from their youth upwards, nor shall I ever again kill all living creatures, as I have just done.

“As long as the earth lasts,

seedtime and harvest. cold and heat,

summer and winter, day and night,

they will never cease.”

Psalm 116:10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant;

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Hallelujah!

Mark 8:22-26 (Revised English Bible):

They arrived at Bethsaida.  There the people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village.  Then he spat on his eyes, laid his eyes upon him, and asked if he could see anything.  The man’s sight began to come back, and he said,

I see people–they look like trees, but they are walking about.

Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; he looked hard, and now he was cured and could not see anything clearly.  Then Jesus sent him home, saying,

Do not even go into the village.

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The Collect:

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

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The readings from Genesis and Mark might seem incongruous, but, after sifting through commentaries, I have found a common thread.  Follow it with me.

Let us begin in the Gospel of Mark.  Know that juxtaposition is very important here.  Jesus also put on a shamanic show involving spittle (with a deaf man that time) in Chapter 7.  And, in Chapter 8, Jesus has had to deal with chronically critical Pharisees and oblivious and overly literalistic Apostles.  So, on the heels of that incident, we read of our Lord and Savior putting on a shamanic show involving spittle while healing a blind man.  As I wrote while addressing the account of the healing of the deaf man, the Gospel of Mark contains stories of Jesus performing long-distance healings, so the song and dance with spittle was of no healing quality, but it was what people expected and believed would work.  So he met them where they were.  Jesus was gracious that way.

This healing occurs in two stages, with the gift of clear vision not arriving immediately.  The Gospel of Mark may be pithy, but it is not simplistic.  This is a story on two levels:  literal vision and spiritual vision.  The man, presumably blind from birth, not due to poor sanitation and too many bird droppings (Life was harsh for many.), does begin to see clearly.  But what about the Apostles?  They are still clueless much of the time.  And what about the chronically critical religious authorities, the culturally recognized guardians of orthodoxy and holiness?  What excuse do they have?  Jesus’ healing of a blind man becomes an indictment of Apostles and Pharisees.

The treatment of the Gospel in Mark in Volume VIII of The New Interpreter’s Bible divides this book into two main section:  Jesus Heals and Teaches with Power (1:1-8:26) and The Son of Man Must Suffer (8:27-16:30).  Indeed, beginning in 8:27, the foreshadowing of the cross deepens, and the Apostles do not understand that, either.  But I begin to get ahead of myself, so I switch to Genesis.

There is an oft-repeated stereotype of the presentation of God in the Hebrew Bible.  God, I have heard too many times, is harsh and judgmental in the Old Testament.  This is a gross oversimplification, one people would not repeat so casually if they would read the Jewish Bible carefully.  If God is harsh in the Old Testament yet merciful in the New Testament, how do we explain the end of the Noah’s Ark story in Genesis or the dark and apocalyptic sayings of Jesus in the canonical Gospels?  Flee for the hills, he says.  Woe unto pregnant women on the day of wrath, he says.  Are those merciful words?  Oversimplifications cannot account for the complexity of the Bible, and both judgment and mercy are present in the Old and New Testaments, often very close to each other.

In the Noah’s Ark story God destroys most of the human race because of its rampant sinfulness.  This, of course, is judgment.  Afterward, God recognizes the continued sinfulness of the human race but vows never to try to destroy us again.  This is mercy.  God will be present with us in many ways, notably the predictable rhythms of nature.  As Chauncey Gardner says in Being There (1979):

In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have Fall and Winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

And, as the Anabaptists (hence the Mennonite logo at the top of this post) say, this is the season of God’s patience.  Do we understand this?  Are we trying (more often than not) to respond favorably to God and to please God, or are just trying God’s patience?

There is hope for us yet.  The eleven surviving Apostles transformed from dunderheads into great leaders of early Christianity.  Our faith flows from theirs.  So, when we work with God, we can become great vehicles of grace.  May we do so.

KRT

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