Archive for the ‘Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1’ Category

Week of Last Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1 (Shrove Tuesday)   6 comments

Above:  A Coin, from 36 C.E., Bearing the Image of the Emperor Tiberius

What Belongs to Caesar and What Belongs to God

FEBRUARY 28, 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tobit 2:9-14 (Revised English Bible):

That night, after bathing myself, I went into my courtyard and lay down to sleep by the courtyard wall, leaving my face uncovered because of the heat.  I did not know that there were sparrows in the wall above me, and their droppings fell, still warm, right into my eyes and produced white patches.  I went to the doctors to be cured, but the more they treated me with their ointments, the more my eyes became blinded by the white patches, until I lost my sight.  I was blind for four years; my kinsmen grieved for me, and for two years Ahikar looked after me, until he moved to Elymais.

At that time Anna my wife used to earn money by women’s work, spinning and weaving, and her employees would pay her when she took them what she had done.  One day, on the seventh of Dystrus, after she had cut off the piece she had woven and delivered it, they not only paid her wages in full, but also gave her a kid from her herd of goats to take home.  When my wife came into the house to me, the kid began to bleat, and I called out to her:

Where does that kid come from?  I hope it was not stolen.

But she assured me:

It was given me as a present, over and above my wages.

I did not believe her and insisted that she return it, and I blushed with shame for what she had done.  Her rejoinder was:

So much for all your acts of charity and all your good works!  Everyone can now see what you are really like.

Psalm 112:1-2, 7-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and who have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see their desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

Mark 12:13-17 (Revised English Bible):

A number of the Pharisees and men of Herod’s party were sent to trap him with a question.  They came and said,

Teacher, we know you are a sincere man and court no one’s favour, whoever he may be; you teach in all sincerity the way of life that God requires.  Are we or are we not permitted to pay taxes to the Roman emperor?  Shall we pay or not?

He saw through their duplicity, and said,

Why are you trying to catch me out?  Fetch me a silver piece, and let me look at it.

They brought one, and he asked them,

Whose head is this, and whose inscription?

They replied,

Caesar’s.

Then Jesus said,

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

His reply left them completely taken aback.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

O God, who before the passion of your only­begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The story of Tobit continues.  He goes blind due to natural causes and begins to feel helpless.  He lashes out verbally at his wife, accusing her of stealing a young goat, and she rebukes him, understandably.  But, if one continues to read, Tobit realizes that he has accused her unjustly, and prays immediately for forgiveness.   He is imperfect, but he does the right thing more often than not.  And Tobit understands his duties to God.

Duties to God, especially versus those to the occupying Roman Empire, reside at the heart of the reading from Mark.  Jewish religious and political elites collaborating with the empire ask Jesus a question meant to entrap him.  Is it lawful to pay the small annual poll tax to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius?  This was not a major source of imperial revenue, but it did remind the Jews living under occupation in their homeland who was in charge, at least in the temporal realm.  This poll tax was payable in a coin bearing the image of the emperor and a written reminder of the official line, which was he was the “Divine Caesar.”  Such a coin was a purposeful affront to Jewish sensibilities.  The tax was in the amount a denarius, or one day’s wage, and men aged 14-65 years and women aged 12-65 had to pay it.  This was a despised tax, and the Romans were rubbing the Jews’ noses in it.

This was a dicey political situation for Jesus.  If he said, “No, this is unjust taxation,” he would be in trouble with the Romans.  And many soldiers were in town during the days leading up to the Passover, the annual commemoration of God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.  Some of them could arrest Jesus at a moment’s notice.  But if he said, “Yes, Tiberius is our emperor, and he deserves our respect, too,” Jesus would lose much public support.   Our Lord and Savior, being perceptive and intelligent, delivered a faultless answer:  The coin belongs to Tiberius; pay it.  But give to God what is due to God.  And what is due to God?  We owe God the pattern of our daily living.

Simply put, the goal of life should be that it will consist increasingly of prayer.  How we live ought to be a prayer.  Too often we think of prayer only as “talking to God.”  There is nothing wrong with oral prayer, but the words we address to God need to be only part of prayer life.  A sense of the sacred ought to inform even the simplest, most mundane actions.  The character Tobit understood this, and repented when he went astray.  So should we.

For none of us has life in himself,

and none becomes his own master when he dies.

For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,

and if we die, we die in the Lord.

So, then, whether we live or die,

we are the Lord’s possession.

–From The Burial of the Dead:  Rite Two, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), quoting Romans 14:7-8

Amen.

KRT

Advertisements

Week of Last Epiphany: Monday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  The Wicked Husbandmen, by Jan Luyken

Holiness, Actual and Imagined

FEBRUARY 27, 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tobit 1:1-2 and 2:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

This is the story of Tobit son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gaguel, of the family of Asiel, of the tribe of Naphtali.  In the time of King Shalmaneser of Assyria he was taken captive from Thisbe which is south of Kedesh-naphtali in Upper Galilee above Hazor, beyond the road to the west, north of Peor.

During the reign of Esarhaddon, I retuned to my house, and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me.  At our festival of Pentecost, that is the feast of Weeks, a fine meal was prepared for me and I took my place.  The table being laid and food in plenty put before me, I said to Tobias,

My son, go out and, if you find among our people captive here in Nineveh some poor man who is wholeheartedly mindful of God, bring him back to share my meal.  I shall wait for you, son, till you return.

Tobias went to look for a poor man of our people, but came straight back and cried,

Father!

I replied,

Yes, my son.

He answered,

Father, one of our nation has been murdered!  His body is lying in the market-place; he has just been strangled.

I jumped up and left my meal untasted.  I took the body from the square and put it in one of the outbuildings until sunset when I could bury it; then I went indoors, duly bathed myself, and ate my food in sorrow.  I recalled the words of the prophet Amos in the passage about Bethel:

Your festivals shall be turned into mourning,

and all your songs into lamentation,

and I wept.  When the sun had gone down, I went and dug a grave and buried the body.  My neighbours jeered.

Is he no longer afraid?

they said.

He ran away last time, when they were hunting him to put him to death for this very offence; and here he is again burying the dead!

Psalm 112:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

5 It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

Mark 12:1-12 (Revised English Bible):

He went on to speak to them in parables:

A man planted a vineyard and put a wall round it, hewed out a winepress, and built a watch-tower; then he let it out to the wine-growers and went abroad.  When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce.  But they seized him, thrashed him, and sent him away empty-handed.  Again, he sent them another servant, whom they beat about the head and treated outrageously, and then another, whom they killed.  He sent many others and they thrashed and killed the rest.  He had now no one left to send except his beloved son, and in the end he sent him.  “They will respect my son,” he said; but the tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come on, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”  So they seized him and killed him, and flung his body out of the vineyard.  What will the owner of the vineyard do?  He will come and put the tenants to death and give the vineyard to others.

Have you never read this text:  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the main corner-stone.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes”?

They saw that the parable was aimed at them and wanted to arrest him; but they were afraid of the people, so they left him alone and went away.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

O God, who before the passion of your only­begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Book of Tobit, part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of scripture, is, like Jonah, religious fiction.  Tobit is a pious Jew living in exile in the Assyrian Empire.  He loves God, his wife, Anna, and his son, Tobias.  And Tobit observes the Jewish faith as much as possible, given the circumstances.  He cannot, for example, observe the harvest festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem, but he does seek to share his Pentecost meal with a less fortunate Jew.  One year Tobit’s son informs his father that the body of a recently murdered Jew is on public display, not buried.  So, in violation of civic law but in accordance with Jewish law, Tobit takes and buries the body.  And he bathes himself ritually afterward, for touching a corpse made one unclean.

Thus Tobit sets in motion the action of the book bearing his name.  I will get to that in subsequent posts, but it is sufficed to say here that Tobit is a model of sincere Jewish piety, and that this holiness brings about both suffering and rewards.  Real life is like that, and the Book of Tobit, although a work of fiction, teaches this lesson.

Now, for the other side…..

Let us ground ourselves in the narrative within the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus is in Holy Week.  He is also engaged in a series of confrontations with Jewish religious leaders headquartered at the Temple at Jerusalem.  The “them” in Mark 12:1 consists of chief priests, scribes, and elders.  Jesus tells them a parable about an absentee landlord (YHWH), a vineyard (the Jewish people), murdered servants (prophets), wicked, selfish tenants (chief priests, scribes and elders) who hope to become heirs by killing the son, and the son (Jesus) of the absentee landlord.  The son will die, but he will become the chief cornerstone, and the God will win despite the best efforts of the wicked tenants, who will lose their position in the vineyard.

Brendan Byrne, S.J., in A Costly Freedom:  A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical Press, 2008), describes this parable as an encapsulation of the Gospel of Mark.  This makes sense:  Jesus lives, suffers, dies, and still triumphs.

The piety of these religious leaders served to build them up and set them apart from the “great unwashed,” who lacked the financial resources to achieve the standards of holiness the religious elite held up as the goal.  This was self-serving religion, not true seeking after God and identifying with the poor.  The fictional Tobit personified true holiness, and, by grace, so can we.  The religious elite Jesus stared down in the telling of the parable could have repented and come to personify true holiness, but they entrenched themselves in defensive positions.

May God reckon us as being more like Tobit than these chief priests, scribes, and elders, who lost their stake in the vineyard when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E., during the First Jewish War.

KRT

Week of 8 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 1   8 comments

Above:  Christ as Emperor, from Ravenna, Italy

Do We Want to Hear What Divine Wisdom Teaches?

NOT OBSERVED IN 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 51:13-22 (Revised English Bible):

When I was still young, before I set off on my travels,

in my prayers I asked openly for wisdom.

In the forecourt of the sanctuary I laid claim to her,

and I shall seek her to the end.

From the first blossom to the ripening of the grape

she has been the delight of my heart.

From my youth my steps have followed her without swerving.

I had hardly begun to listen when I was rewarded,

and I gained for myself much instruction.

I made progress in my studies;

all glory to God who gives me wisdom!

I determined to practice what I had learnt;

I pursued goodness, and shall never regret it.

With all my might I strove for wisdom

and was scrupulous in whatever I did.

I spread out my hands to Heaven above,

deploring my shortcomings;

I set my heart on possessing wisdom,

and my keeping myself pure I found her.

With her I gained understanding from the first;

therefore I shall never be at a loss.

Because I passionately yearned to discover her,

a noble possession was mine:

as a reward the Lord gave me eloquence,

and with it I shall praise him.

Psalm 19:7-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8 The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.

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

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened,

and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends?

cleanse me from my secret faults?

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;

let them not get dominion over me;

then shall I be whole and sound,

and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

Mark 11:27-33 (Revised English Bible):

They came once more to Jerusalem.  As he was walking in the temple court the chief priests, scribes, and elders came to him and said,

By what authority are you acting like this?  Who gave you authority to act in this way?

Jesus said to them,

I also have a question for you, and if you give me an answer, I will tell you by what authority I act.  The baptism of John:  was it from God, or from men?  Answer me.

This set them arguing among themselves:

What shall we say?  If we say, “From God,” he will say, “Then why did you not believe him?”  Shall we say “From men?”

–but they were afraid of the people, for all held that John was in fact a prophet.  So they answered,

We do not know.

And Jesus said to them,

Then I will not tell you either by what authority I act.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Experience confirms in my mind that using lectionaries is the best way to study the Bible.  Reading more than one section of scripture helps the process of finding links and common themes.  Sometimes one reads a group of lessons and finds no overall message, but, as in the case of these lections, a composite moral emerges.  Here it is:  Human traditions to not restrict the wisdom of God.  If we truly seek divine wisdom, we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that God will tell us we are terribly mistaken.

Let us begin with Mark 11:27-33.

The Temple at Jerusalem was the headquarters of a religious system that exploited poor people by preying on their desires to be holy.  It was also the seat of collaboration with the Roman Empire.  This is a very important point to understand.  The setting of this lection is one of the days leading up to the annual celebration of the Passover, the celebration of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  They did this each year in occupied Jerusalem, and the nerve center of activity was the Temple.  There was no separation of Temple and state, so Jesus’ activities placed him at risk of what happened to him at the end of the week:  the crucifixion.  By standing against the Temple system and collaboration with Rome, our Lord and Savior put himself in the line of fire from the imperium.

For some reason (I do not know why.), I did not understand this point until my early adulthood.

Many professional religious people derived both livelihood and social status from this Temple system.  They perceived Jesus as a threat, which he was, and reacted defensively.  If they had sought wisdom, they would have been open to learning that they were mistaken.  If they had received wisdom, they would have recognized their secret faults.  But they did none of this.  Instead, they challenged Jesus and attempted to entrap him in his own words.

Jesus was smarter than they, however.  So, when they asked him by what he authority he acted, he demonstrated his authority by turning the tables on his questioners.  Instead of playing their game, he made them play his game.  He asked them an awkward question:  By whose authority did the late John the Baptist act?  Many people regarded the forerunner as a prophet (which he was), but these professional religious people disagreed.  Recognizing their difficult situation, which the text of Mark 11:27-33 describes well, they opted for a diplomatic, know-nothing reply.  And Jesus refused to answer their query verbally.

He had, however, answered them by the way he handled them.  Jesus was still a force with which to reckon.  Those with authority do not need to speak of it much, for it is obvious.  They carry themselves with authority, and that is enough.  So beware of those who speak incessantly about their power and authority; they are probably insecure in both.

Ben Sira wrote of his quest for wisdom.  He pursued wisdom, attempted to live what he had learned, and gave all glory to God.  He had no regrets.  Psalm 19 contains one of favorite lines of scripture:

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever,
the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

Sometimes these judgments say that we are wrong, that we need to repent.  Many people misunderstand the meaning of “repent.”  It means far more than apologizing to someone (such as God) or lamenting one’s sins.  Actually, to repent is turn around, change one’s mind, and to be transformed.  Even the possibility of transformation can prove terrifying, but it is way to deeper spiritual life in God, or just to spiritual life in God.  So, when Gods says we are wrong, may we repent, not become defensive.

Now, for the rest of the story.  The Romans ended the Temple and the Temple system by force in 70 C.E., when they destroyed Jerusalem.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/do-we-want-to-hear-what-divine-wisdom-teaches/

Week of 8 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  A Model of the Temple Complex in Jerusalem During the Time of Jesus

Jesus vs. the Temple System

NOT OBSERVED IN 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

Let us now praise famous men,

the fathers of our people in their generations;

to them the Lord assigned great glory,

his majestic greatness from of old.

Some held sway over kingdoms

and gained renown by their might.

Others were far-seeing counsellors

who spoke out with prophetic power.

Some guided the people by their deliberations

and by their knowledge of the nation’s law,

giving instruction from their fund of wisdom.

Some were composers of music;

some were writers of poetry.

Others were endowed with wealth and strength,

living at ease in their homes.

All those won glory in their own generation

and were the pride of their times.

Some there are who have left behind them a name

to be commemorated in story.

Others are unremembered;

they have perished as though they had never existed,

as though they had never been born;

so too it was with their children after them.

But not so our forefathers, men true to their faith,

whose virtuous deeds have not been forgotten.

Their prosperity is handed on to their descendants,

their inheritance to future generations.

Through him their children are within the covenants–

the whole race of their descendants.

Their line will endure for all time;

their glory will never die.

Their bodies are buried in peace

and their name lives for ever.

Nations will tell of their wisdom,

and the assembled people will sing their praise.

Psalm 149:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallulujah!

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker;

let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3 Let them praise his Name in the dance;

let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people

and adorns the poor with victory.

5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;

let them be joyful on their beds.

Mark 11:11-26 (Revised English Bible):

(Note:  Mark 11:1-10 tells of Jesus borrowing a colt and entering Jerusalem.)

He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.  He looked round at everything; then, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

On the following day, as they left Bethany, he felt hungry, and, noticing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it.  But when he reached it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs.  He said to the tree, “May no one ever again eat fruit from you!”  And his disciples were listening.

So they came to Jerusalem, and he went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold there.  He upset the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dealers in pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry goods through the temple court.  Then he began to teach them, and said,

Does not scripture say, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”?

The chief priests and the scribes heard of this and looked for a way to bring about his death; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.

Early next morning, as they passed by, they saw that the fig tree had withered from the roots up; and Peter, recalling what had happened, said to him,

Rabbi, look, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.

Jesus answered them,

Have faith in God.  Truly I tell you:  if anyone says to this mountain, “Be lifted from your place and hurled into the sea,” and has no inward doubts, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  I tell you, then, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.

And when you stand praying, if you have a grievance against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive the wrongs you have done.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Temple system benefited the wealthy and provided professional religious people with a comfortable living.  Temple taxes, paid mostly by those who could not afford them yet who acted out of community pressure and what they understood as piety (because that is how their religious leaders defined it) paid temple taxes and purchased sacrificial animals.  But they had to convert their Roman currency, which bore the image of the Emperor and the Latin words for “Divine Caesar” before they bought such sacrificial animals as pigeons.  Each Roman coin was an idol.  And the money changers were turning a nice profit, as was the chief priest.  It was religious racketeering, and Jesus confronted it.

And we have an odd two-part story about Jesus cursing a fig tree for not producing figs out of season.  The account from the Gospel of Matthew repeats this story, but not the out of season detail.  This is a difficult story, and it does not cast Jesus in a positive light.  The best I can offer, after reading commentaries, is that the poor fig tree is a stand-in for the Temple system, for the accounts of the fig tree are set amid condemnations of that system.

Jesus does propose an alternative, however.  We can pray to God without spending needless money on currency conversion and on sacrificial pigeons.  But…there is always a but…we need to forgive others, for there exists a link between our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us.  Jesus raises the bar again.

This hits me where it hurts.  I had a hell of a time (Yes, it was that bad.)  at the Department of History, The University of Georgia, during the sixteen months of my doctoral program.  I can think of the names of three professors, including my major professor, whom I need to forgive.  And, to this day, I harbor some negative emotions toward the entire university.  They are less prominent than they used to be, but they persist.  Forgiveness is hard, especially when one is the aggrieved party.  But it is possible, by grace.  It is only possible by grace.  And I am convinced that is a process much of the time.  [Update: Those negative emotions washed out of my system years ago.  I would not have been human had I not had such emotions, but I would have been foolish not to drop that burden years ago.–2017]

God knows that we are “but dust,” yet holds us to certain standards.  Fortunately, the two sides of that sentence exist in balance.  This, however, does not absolve any of us from doing our spiritual part.  Jesus has shown us the way; may we follow him.  That, too, is a process.

KRT

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Week of 8 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Jesus Healing the Blind Man (circa 1625-1650), by Eustache Le Sueur

The Creative Power of Words

NOT OBSERVED IN 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 42:15-25 (Revised English Bible):

How shall I call to mind the works of the Lord

and describe what I have seen,

his works which by his word were made.

As everything is illumined by the rays of the sun,

so the works of the Lord are full of his glory.

Even to the angels the Lord has not given the power

to tell the full tale of the marvels

accomplished by the Lord Almighty,

so that the universe may stand firm in his glory.

He fathoms both the abyss and the human heart,

he is versed in their intricacies;

for the Most High possesses all knowledge,

and the signs of the times are under his eye.

He discloses both past and future,

and lays bare the traces of secret things.

No thought escapes his notice,

and not a single word is hidden from him.

He has set in order the masterpieces of his wisdom,

he who is One from eternity to eternity;

nothing is added, nothing taken away,

and he needs none to give him counsel.

How pleasing is all that he has made,

even the smallest spark the eye can see!

His works endure, all of them active for ever

and all responsive to their several functions.

All things go in pairs, one counterpart of the other;

he has made nothing incomplete.

One thing supplements the virtues of another.

Of his glory who can ever see too much?

Psalm 33:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and lyre.

3 sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

4 For the word of the LORD is right,

and all of his works are sure.

5 He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

Mark 10:46-52 (Revised English Bible):

They came to Jericho; and as he was leaving the town, with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was seated at the roadside.  Hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout,

Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me!

Many of the people told him to hold his tongue; but he shouted all the more,

Son of David, have pity on me.

Jesus stopped and said,

Call him;

so they called the blind man:

Take heart;

they said.

Get up; he is calling you.

At that he threw off his cloak, jumped to his feet, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him,

What do you want me to do for you?

The blind man answered,

Rabbi, I want my sight back.

Jesus said to him,

Go; your faith as healed you.

At once he recovered his sight and followed him on the road.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

The old saying I have quoted above is a lie.  Many of us know this from experience, do we not?  My point is this:  words have the power to create a new reality.

According the Jewish mythology incorporated into the Christian Bible, God spoke the universe into existence.  And, as the psalmist and Ben Sira remind us, the created order spoken into existence is majestic, beautiful, and abounding in divine wisdom. I am sufficiently panentheistic (without falling into anti-scientific notions such as creationism) to perceive God in nature, from a sunset to cricket chirps.  Nature is especially beautiful when one regards it as an expression of the sacred.  One does not exploit what one regards as sacred, and environmental stewardship becomes a religious duty, not just a biological imperative.  No, one stands in awe in the presence of what one regards as sacred, and one seeks and finds the words of God there.   Maybe the crickets chirp them.  One does not know for sure until one listens closely enough for long enough.

Speaking of the presence of the sacred, we have the story of Jesus, en route to Jerusalem for Passover, healing blind Bartimaeus.  This is a good time to point out where we are in the Markan narrative.  The book has sixteen chapters; we are at the end of Chapter 10.  Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem for his last celebration of the Passover.  He will die very soon.  He is a man with quite a bit on his mind, but not too much to help this blind man others are trying to keep quiet.

Bartimaeus, the author of the Gospel of Mark tells us, was a blind beggar.  He had little, and his disability rendered him marginal in his society.  Ancient blindness had a variety of causes, ranging from being born that way to having a diet lacking sufficient vitamins to experiencing eye diseases to suffering the effects of bird droppings.  There was a common cultural belief in First Century C.E. Palestine that blindness and other physical ailments resulted from sin; this point arises more than once in the canonical gospels.  So here we have Bartimaeus, who cannot earn a living because he is blind, and whom others regard as unusually sinful.

He hears that Jesus is passing by.  So Bartimaeus seizes his opportunity and calls out to Jesus.  Our Lord and Savior hears these persistent pleas and answers them.  With words Bartimaeus helps create his new reality (one of sight), and with words Jesus completes the process.  And what does Bartimaeus do next?  He follows Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

I think that the end of this story contains a deeper level of meaning.  Of course Bartimaeus follows Jesus for the remaining fifteen miles to Jerusalem for Passover.  But he follows Jesus in a non-literal way, too.  Bartimaeus follows Jesus for the rest of his life, however long or short that may be.  His ending might not be pleasant, assuming the full meaning of the metaphor.   Yet what time he has left is dedicated to following Jesus, and that is a high calling indeed.

And it began with a simple, persistent plea for mercy.  It started with words.

Ben Sira asks a profound question:

Of his glory who can ever see too much?

I suspect that, had someone asked Bartimaeus this question over a week after the healing, he would have said that nobody can ever see too much divine glory.  He saw more than he expected he would on that day when Jesus passed by, and everything he witnessed changed his life.

Words have the power to create.  What will the results of your words be?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/the-creative-power-of-words/

Week of 8 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Christ Carrying the Cross (1580), by El Greco

Jesus, Who Contradicts Many of Our Assumptions

NOT OBSERVED IN 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ecclesiasticus 36:1-2, 5-6, 13-17 (Revised English Bible):

Look on us with pity, Lord God of all,

and strike fear in every nation.

Let them learn, as we ourselves have learned,

that there is not god but you, O Lord.

Renew your signs, repeat your miracles,

with glory for your mighty hand and right arm.

Show mercy to the city of your sanctuary,

to the city of Jerusalem, your dwelling-place.

Fill Zion with the praise of your triumph

and the temple with your glory.

Acknowledge those you created at the beginning

and fulfill the prophecies spoken in your name.

Reward those who look to you in trust;

prove your prophets worthy of credence.

Listen, O Lord, to the prayer of your servants,

who claim Aaron’s blessing on your people.

Let all who live on earth acknowledge

that you are the Lord, the eternal God.

Psalm 79:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 Remember not our past sins;

let your compassion be swift to meet us;

for we have been brought very low.

9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name;

deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

10 Why should the heathen say, “Where is their God?”

Let it be known among the heathen and in our sight

that you avenge the shedding of your servant’s blood.

11 Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,

and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.

12 May the revilings with which they reviled you, O Lord,

return seven-fold into their bosoms.

13 For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture;

we will give you thanks for ever

and show forth your praise from age to age.

Mark 10:32-45 (Revised English Bible):

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe, while those who followed behind were afraid.  Once again he took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him.

We are now going up to Jerusalem,

he said,

and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles.  He will be mocked and spat upon, and flogged and killed; and three days afterwards, he will rise again.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said,

Teacher, we should like you to do us a favour.

He asked,

What is it you want me to do for you?

They answered,

Allow us to sit with you in your glory, one at your right hand and the other at your left.

Jesus said to them,

You do not understand what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

They answered,

We can.

Jesus said,

The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism that I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit on my right or on my left is not for me to grant; that honour is for those to whom it has already been assigned.

When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them to him and said,

You know that among the Gentiles the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and the great make their authority felt.  It shall not be so with you; among you whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The readings from Sirach and Psalms come from circumstances of national distress.  Psalm 79 comes from the aftermath of the Chaldean (Babylonian) destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.  Sirach comes from the time after the return from this exile.  The Jews were home, but they were still subject to foreign nations.  And the descendants many Gentiles who had settled in the Jewish homeland remained.  Gentiles lost their land claims.  Religious, ethnic, and cultural conflicts erupted, of course.  So it is not surprising that the full texts of Psalm 79 and Sirach 36 contain much anger toward foreigners.

These readings contain pleas for divine mercy during such difficult times.  It was certainly a feeling that many in First Century C.E. Palestine understood.  Here were Jews living in their homeland, but under Roman occupation and with many Gentiles settled among them.  National glory was something from a past nobody remembered firsthand.  And was not the Messiah supposed to expel all those foreigners?

Speaking of the Messiah, Jesus did not expel any foreigner.  No, he even found great faith among some of them.  Jesus is like that:  not what many people expect or want him to be.

When reading the Gospel of Mark, it is very important to pay close attention to how material is grouped.  For example, this day’s reading flows directly from recent readings about children, a camel passing through the eye of a needle,  and predictions of our Lord and Savior’s death and resurrection.  It seems that some Apostles have not been paying enough attention.  The author of Mark has James and John, sons of Zebedee, ask for glorious positions relative to Jesus.  Note, however, that, in the parallel reading in Matthew 20:20-28, their mother makes the request.  The two are versions of the same story, based on a close reading of them.  (Read them for yourself.)

The other Apostles are angry with James and John, probably because they were jockeying for position, too.  “How dare you two get there first?” the other seemed to ask.  At least that is my interpretation.

Anyhow, Jesus says that the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wants to be the greatest must be the lowliest servant.  And, by the way, he will suffer, die and rise again.  I have read this before in Mark.  But here we have these statements repeated.  We humans do not always listen closely enough often enough, do we?  Sometimes “our tapes are running,” so we hear but do not listen.  Jesus says something plainly, but we do not understand, so he has not communicated with us.  The fault is with us, not Jesus.

I propose that the communication breaks down at our end because Jesus contradicts many of our assumptions.  He cannot mean what the words seem to indicate, can he?  Yes, he can.  How often do we need him to repeat himself?  How dense are we?

The Kingdom of God is an inverted order relative to the traditional social arrangements.  According to Matthew 5:3-11 and Luke 6:20-26, the physically hungry will be filled.  Those who are spiritually impoverished will have spiritual abundance.  Those who mourn and weep will laugh.  The meek will inherit the earth.  The merciful will not get run over and taken advantage of; they will receive mercy.  The peacemakers will not be marginalized in a militaristic and angry society; they will be called sons and daughters of God.  The persecuted will triumph in God.  Those reviled for the sake of righteousness will rejoice.  The rich have received their consolation, the well-fed will be hungry, and those laughing now will mourn and weep.  And being well-regarded in polite society does not indicate favor with God.

And, as we have read today, the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wishes to be the greatest must be the servant of all.  I know that this is repetitive, but so was Jesus.  Some statements bear repeating.

So, after almost 2,000 years of repetition, why have we not understood yet?  Why are so many of us who claim to follow Jesus so dense?  We are invested in and acculturated to the dominant social arrangements.  It is not that the Kingdom of God is upside-down; we are.

Lord, have mercy.

We need to be right side-up.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/jesus-who-contradicts-many-of-our-assumptions/

Week of 8 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Cross of Peter

Physical Sacrifices and Spiritual Rewards

NOT OBSERVED IN 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 35:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

To keep the law is worth many offerings;

to heed the commandments is a shared-offering.

A kindness repaid is a grain-offering,

and to give alms is a thank-offering.

The way to please the Lord is to keep clear of evil,

and to keep clear of wrongdoing is to make atonement.

Yet do not appear before the Lord empty-handed;

perform all the sacrifices, for they are commanded.

When the just person brings his offering of fat to the altar,

its fragrance rises to the presence of the Most High.

The sacrifice of the just is acceptable,

and such a memorial will never be forgotten.

Be generous in your worship of the Lord

and do not stint the firstfruits of your labour.

Give all your gifts cheerfully,

and with gladness dedicate your tithe.

Give to the Most High as he has given to you,

as generously as your means allow,

for the Lord always repays

and you will be repaid seven times over.

Psalm 50:7-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

9 I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he-goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the whole world is mine and all that are in it.

13 Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.”

Mark 10:28-31 (Revised English Bible):

Peter said,

What about us?” We have left everything to follow you.

Jesus said,

Truly I tell you:  there is no one who has given up home, brothers or sisters, mother, father, or children, or land, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and land–and persecutions besides; and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Christian discipleship requires sacrifice.  Something must go if we are to obey God and follow Jesus.  This is a basic principle.  So is this:  Whatever we offer to God, we must offer it out of gratitude.  We offer to God a portion of that which God has given us.  Forms of sacrifice are myriad.  They include money, talents, time, prayer, possessions, career, and life itself.  Consider Peter, who had left everything to follow Jesus.  He died when people crucified him upside down, hence the picture at the top of this post.

As I write these words, someone I do not know and will never meet is experiencing the pain resulting from the fact that his or her family and disowned him or her for becoming a Christian.  This person is not alone; God is near.  And other Christians will take this person in and become his or her new family.  And other person is dying for converting to Christianity from Islam.  He or she will receive Heaven, where nobody may harm him or her.  “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says.  What is your cross?  And, more immediately, what sacrifices must you make out of gratitude?

I have been sufficiently fortunate not to experience persecution or run the risk of martyrdom.  This is because of where and when I was born.  I come from a Western society blessed with freedom of religion, one of my favorite Enlightenment ideals.  So let us bless the names of Anne Hutchinson (exiled from Massachusetts for questioning her pastor’s theology), Roger Williams (who claimed that the state should not compel anyone to pray), Thomas Jefferson (who disestablished the church in Virginia), Francis Makemie (the American Presbyterian pioneer imprisoned in New York in the early 1700s for preaching without a license), and all others who have stood courageously for freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.  They have made the lives of many people in succeeding generations much easier than they would have been otherwise.  (Read the history of the Byzantine Empire to find many abuses flowing from the union of church and state.)

But I have had to sacrifice bad (albeit enjoyable) habits, and I have done so obediently and thankfully.  Better habits have replaced them.  What I have received is far superior to what I sacrificed.  And I have had so sacrifice my illusion of control, which God has replaced with increased serenity.  I have sacrificed much arrogance, too, and found that listening more to people is quite a blessing.  I could continue, but I trust that I have made my point well.

I have many more sacrifices to make, and I trust that God will show them to me.  I have not “arrived” spiritually, and suspect that I will not do so until I enter the afterlife.  The journey continues.  Thanks be to God!

KRT