Archive for the ‘February 2’ Category

Devotion for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Job and His Alleged Friends, a Fresco

Image in the Public Domain

Being Good Friends

FEBRUARY 2, 2020


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Job 5:6-23 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21

Psalm 41

James 2:1-17

Mark 1:29-45


The Law of Moses, unlike the older Code of Hammurabi, to which it bears some similarity, does not bring social class into consideration.  No, the Law of Moses is impartial regarding the socio-economic status of both the victim and the perpetrator.  In the Code of Hammurabi, for example, the same crime (theft or assault, for example) leads to a harsher penalty when the victim belongs to a higher social class.  In the Law of Moses, however, the penalty is the same, regardless of anyone’s socio-economic status.  That ethic of socio-economic impartiality carries over into James 2:1-7.

The Hillelian distillation of the Law of Moss comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (the Shema).  How we love God, assuming that we do, manifests in how we treat each other.  Hypocrisy is as old as human nature.  Pious fronts belie both evil intentions and lesser disregard and carelessness.  Often those who violate the Golden Rule do so while imagining that they are honoring God.  Eliphaz the Temanite and the other so-called friends of Job (who remind me of, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”) sound like the Book of Psalms much of the time.  That fact complicates the interpretation of much of the Book of Job.  The best answer I can offer is that what they said applied in certain circumstances, but not that one.

If we were less concerned about who is wright and about insisting that we are right, and if we were more concerned about being good friends to one another, we could fulfill the spirit of most of the assigned texts for today.








Devotion for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Years A, B, C, and D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Anna at the Presentation of Jesus, by Giotto

Image in the Public Domain

Recognizing the Savior



The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple falls on February 2, forty days after Christmas.  The origins of the Feast of the Presentation date to the 300s, in Jerusalem, where the original date was February 14-forty days after January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.  In the English Prayer Book tradition the Feast of the Presentation has been the Feast of the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin, per the beginning of Leviticus 12, hinted at in Luke 2:22-23.

The readings from Malachi 3 and Psalm 24, along with Luke 2:22-40, convey a sense of awe and wonder.  They tell us to take notice, for God, or a messenger thereof, has arrived.  Where better to be than in the Temple?  This is an event that has changed the world, after all.  When we read of the divine arrival in Luke 2 and Hebrews 2, we read of the Incarnation as an infant, not a conquering hero in armor.  Via living as a human being, one fully human as well as fully divine, Christ can identify with our suffering and help those enduring tests, we read in Hebrews 2:18.

It would have been easy to fail to recognize the infant Jesus for who he was, but Simeon and Anna knew who he was.  They spread their wisdom in their time and place.  Certainly some who heard them considered that message ridiculous, as it must have seemed to have been.

Fortunately, we can, via hindsight and the Bible, recognize the wisdom of Simeon and Anna, as well as the true identity of that infant boy.








Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly pray that,

as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the Temple,

so may we be presented to you with pure and clean hearts

by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 239


Blessed are you, O Lord our God, for you have sent us your salvation.

Inspire us by your Holy Spirit to see with our own eyes him who is

the glory of Israel and the light for all nations, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), page 32


Malachi 3:1-4

Psalm 84 or 24:7-10

Hebrews 2:14-18

Luke 2:22-40




Devotion for Wednesday After the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Flevit Super Illam, by Enrique Simonet

Above:  Flevit Super Illam (He Wept Over It), by Enrique Simonet

Image in the Public Domain

The Wrath of God

FEBRUARY 2, 2022


The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and love;

and that we may obtain what you promise,

make us love what you command,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 1:11-19

Psalm 56

Luke 19:41-44


Be kind to me, God, for men are persecuting me,

continually assailants oppress me.

My adversaries persecute me all day long,

indeed those who attack me are many.

Though each day I am afraid of fierce enemies

still I put my trust in you.

–Psalm 56:1-3, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley


The main two readings for today are unhappy.  The prophet Jeremiah, having just accepted God’s call, receives his commission, complete with the following promise:

They will attack you,

But they shall not overcome you;

For I am with you–declares the LORD–to save you.

–Jeremiah 1:19, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Jeremiah spent much time on the run from the law, in custody, and finally, in exile.

Jesus, just a few days away from his death, lamented over Jerusalem.  Then he cleansed the Temple of merchants profiteering from the upcoming Passover.  Certainly the memory of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. informed the telling of that story, but one did not need to be a seer or a genius to predict that, in time, yet another rebellion by Jews would lead to Roman forces destroying the city.  The account is historically plausible.

In both readings the cause of the disaster is the same–prolonged, systematic, and societal failure to recognize God and to act accordingly.  One might interpret the resulting disaster not so much as God being vengeful as the proverbial chickens coming home to roost.  Actions have consequences.  We know that the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah strayed far from the societal vision of mutuality underpinning the Law of Moses, and that idolatry was ubiquitous.  In the case of the reading from Luke, the Temple establishment was in league with the occupying Roman forces.  Perhaps the wrath of God in these cases, if one chooses to interpret the doom as such, was as simple as,

You have made your bed.  Now sleep in it.

I am cautious in addressing this matter, for I seek to avoid committing certain errors.  Within my memory during the last decade and more, certain prominent professing Christian evangelists have brought reproach on Christianity by blaming some natural disasters (frustrated by human shortsightedness in matters such as civil engineering) on God, whom they have portrayed as vengeful.  Was Hurricane Katrina (2005) God’s wrath for toleration and acceptance of homosexuality?  Of course not!  How dare anyone suggest that it was!  Despite my caution, I recognize that there is such a thing as the wrath of God, and that it frequently takes the form of having to deal with the consequences of one’s actions and inactions.  My concept of God differs greatly from that of those who worship the gangster God of whom all people should stand in terror and whom nobody can possibly belove.









Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

St. Lawrence of Rome

Above:  St. Laurence of Rome

Image in the Public Domain

Godly Inclusion and Social Justice

FEBRUARY 1 and 2, 2021


The Collect:

Compassionate God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence

and continually reveal your Son as our Savior.

Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion,

that all creation will see and know your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 22:1-21 (Monday)

Numbers 22:22-28 (Tuesday)

Psalm 35:1-10 (Both Days)

Acts 21:17-26 (Monday)

1 Corinthians 7:32-40 (Tuesday)


My very bones will say, “Lord, who is like you?

You deliver the poor from those who are too strong for them,

the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

–Psalm 35:10, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Thus he who marries his betrothed does well,

and he who does not marry does better.

–1 Corinthians 7:38, The Revised English Bible (1989)


St. Paul the Apostle thought that the Second Coming of Jesus might occur within his lifetime, so he argued that changing one’s social or marital status ought not to constitute major priorities.  Most important, he contended, was living faithfully to God.  Thus avoiding distractions to a proper spiritual life was crucial, he wrote.  The Apostle was correct in his case that certain relationships do function as such distractions on some occasions.  He also argued correctly that God should come first in our lives.  Nevertheless, he was wrong about the timing of the Second Coming and the low priority of working for social justice.

A recurring theme in recent devotions in this series has been the sovereignty of God.  I have written that to use that eternal truth as cover for hatred and related violence is sinful.  Now I expand that statement to argue that using the sovereignty of God as cover for erecting and defending barriers between people and God is also sinful.  Yahweh is the universal deity, not a tribal god.  Divine power extends to Gentiles, from Balaam (in Numbers 22) to people in New Testament times to populations today.

I understand why people erect and defend spiritual barriers to God.  Doing so establishes boundaries which comfort and include those who define or defend them.  Fortunately, God’s circles are larger than ours.  Thus our Lord and Savior ate with notorious sinners, conversed at length with women, and committed many more scandalous deeds.  As the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta tells me, we should draw the circle wider.

Drawing the circle wider can threaten an identity founded on a small circle of the pure, but is doing that really such a bad thing?  No!  We ought to think less about our alleged purity and the supposed impurity of those different from us and focus instead on the vital work of ministry.  That work entails both evangelism and social justice efforts, for both aspects are consistent with the Old and New Testaments.  If I, for example, have the opportunity to help someone who is hungry eat proper food and choose not to do so, I do not feed Jesus.  If I say “be filled” to that person, I do him or her no good.  I have not loved my neighbor as myself.  And, if I affirm the unjust socio-economic system which keeps many people hungry, I am complicit in a societal evil.

The sovereignty of God is far more than a theological abstraction.  May it be a great force for loving others as our neighbors in God and therefore for improving society.  May grace, working through us, heal divisions, draw circles wider, and engage in radical hospitality.  May we witness what the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., called a moral revolution of values in 1967; may we (as a society) value people more than things and wealth.  As St. Laurence of Rome understood well long ago, when he gave his life for his faith in 258, the poor are the treasures of the Church.









An Invitation to Observe a Holy Epiphany and Season after Epiphany   Leave a comment

Above:  Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, Georgia, January 8, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Liturgical time matters, for it sacramentalizes days, hours, and minutes, adding up to seasons on the church calendar.  Among the frequently overlooked seasons is the Season after Epiphany, the first part of Ordinary Time.  The Feast of the Epiphany always falls on January 6 in my tradition.  And Ash Wednesday always falls forty days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday.  The Season after Epiphany falls between The Feast of the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.  In 2013 the season will span January 7-February 12.

This season ought to be a holy time, one in which to be especially mindful of the imperative to take the good news of Jesus of Nazareth to others by a variety of means, including words when necessary.  Words are meaningless when our actions belie them, after all.  Among the themes of this season is that the Gospel is for all people, not just those we define as insiders.  No, the message is also for our “Gentiles,” those whom we define as outsiders.  So, with that thought in mind, I encourage you, O reader, to exclude nobody.  Do not define yourself as an insider to the detriment of others.  If you follow this advice, you will have a proper Epiphany spirit.







Devotion for February 2 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

Above:  Crete (July 22, 2011)

Image Source = Jet Propulsion Library, NASA

Discomfort with Scripture

FEBRUARY 2, 2022


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


The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 12:1-13:9

Psalm 61 (Morning)

Psalms 138 and 98 (Evening)

Titus 1:1-2:6


Sometimes I read texts and find inspiration.  Then there are Zechariah 12:1-13:9 and Titus 1:1-2:6.  One of the benefits of a lectionary is that it leads one who follows it to read uncomfortable passages.  One, in reading the Bible, ought not to focus only on one’s favorite passages and those with which one agrees.

The imagery in Zechariah is stark and the polemics in Titus are jarring.  If I were (A) a female, (B) a man from Crete, or (C) a woman from Crete, I would really take offense.  and Zechariah II’s imagery of divine wrath upon the enemies of Judah turning Jerusalem into

…a bowl of reeling…

do not comfort me.  I read that God will cause the people of Judah to feel compassion for the afflicted Gentiles, but the Gentiles are still slain.

For all my discomfort, I refuse to seek convenient ways to explain away passages.  Inadequate rationalizations will not suffice.  No, I own my discomfort, for I seek to be honest–and to take my discomfort to God.









Before a Bible Study   Leave a comment

Above:  An Old Family Bible

Image Source = David Ball


God of glory,

as we prepare to study the Bible,

may we approach the texts with our minds open,

our intellects engaged,

and our spirits receptive to your leading,

so that we will understand them correctly

and derive from them the appropriate lessons.

Then may we act on those lessons.

For the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,








Posted October 7, 2011 by neatnik2009 in December 1, December 10, December 11, December 12, December 13, December 14, December 15, December 16, December 17, December 18, December 19, December 2, December 20, December 21, December 22, December 23, December 24: Christmas Eve, December 25: First Day of Christmas, December 26: Second Day of Christmas/St. Stephen, December 27: Third Day of Christmas/St. John the Evangelist, December 28: Fourth Day of Christmas/Holy Innocents, December 29: Fifth Day of Christmas, December 3, December 30: Sixth Day of Christmas, December 31: Seventh Day of Christmas/New Year's Eve, December 4, December 5, December 6, December 7, December 8, December 9, February 1, February 10, February 11, February 12, February 13, February 14, February 15, February 16, February 17, February 18, February 19, February 2, February 20, February 21, February 22, February 23, February 24, February 25, February 26, February 27, February 28, February 29, February 3, February 4, February 5, February 6, February 7, February 8, February 9, January 10, January 11, January 12, January 13, January 14, January 15, January 16, January 17, January 18, January 19, January 1: Eighth Day of Christmas/Holy Name of Jesus/New Year's Day, January 20, January 21, January 22, January 23, January 24, January 25, January 26, January 27, January 28, January 29, January 2: Ninth Day of Christmas, January 30, January 31, January 3: Tenth Day of Christmas, January 4: Eleventh Day of Christmas, January 5: Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 6: Epiphany, January 7, January 8, January 9, March 1, March 2, March 3, March 4, March 5, March 6, March 7, March 8, March 9, November 27, November 28, November 29, November 30

Tagged with

Week of 4 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 2   2 comments

Above:  An Orthodox Icon of David

David, the Census, and Bad Theology

FEBRUARY 2, 2022


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.


2 Samuel 24:2, 9-17 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, who were with him,

Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people.

And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king:  in Israel there were eight hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand.

But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people?  And David said to the LORD,

I have sinned greatly in what I have done.  But now, O LORD, I pray you, take away the iniquity of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.

And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,

Go and say to David, “Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.”

So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him,

Shall three years of famine come to you in your land?  Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you?  Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land?  Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.

Then David said to Gad,

I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but not let me fall into the hand of man.

So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time; and there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men.  And when the angel stretched forth his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented of the evil, and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people,

It is enough; now stay your hand.

And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking down the people, and said,

Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?  Let your hand, I pray you, be against me and against my father’s house?

Psalm 32:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,

and whose sin is put away!

2 Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and did not conceal my guilt.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”

Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make your prayers to you in time of trouble;

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

8 You are my hiding-place;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

Mark 6:1-6 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

He went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him.  And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying,

Where did this man get all this?  What is the wisdom given to him?  What mighty works are wrought by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?

And they took offense at him.  And Jesus said to him,

A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

And he could not do mighty work there, except that he laid hands upon a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of 4 Epiphany:  Wednesday, Year 1:

Matthew 13 (Parallel to Mark 6):


Often I read a biblical text and find it inspiring.  Then we have 2 Samuel 24, which leads me to argue with its theology.  I write these devotions for sequential reading, as the lectionaries tend to be sequential, so I do not feel the need to repeat certain statements every second or third or fourth, et cetera, post, but I do repeat one maxim I have quoted elsewhere in this series because it has direct bearing on my interpretation.  As Donald Armentrout has said, the best way to read the Bible is through the “Gospel glasses.”  Not all parts of the Bible are equal, for the four canonical Gospels are more important than 1 and 2 Chronicles, for example.  In this case, Jesus trumps the theology in 2 Samuel 24.

So, what was sinful about David’s census?  The narrative indicates that the purpose was military.  Was David overconfident in his army, indicating too little trust in God?  If this is a moral of the story, God does not come across as one in whom I would seek to put my trust.  Rather, God comes across more like a vindictive and omnipotent SOB.  Finally, God’s vindictiveness does run its course, for God orders the angel to stop its destructive work, David builds an altar on the future site of the Temple at Jerusalem, and God averts the plague from Israel.

D. D. Whedon’s Commentary on the Old Testament (1873), a work with whose theology I seldom agree, does summarize a crucial plot point in 2 Samuel 24 well.  The Reverend M. S. Terry wrote the following note regarding verse 15 on page 554 of Volume III:

…David was vainglorious over the multitude of his warriors, but this one stroke almost decimates them….

So, in the narrative, God tells David, in so many words, trust in me OR ELSE!

That portrait of God as a vengeful deity who attacks innocents disturbs me.  This is the same theology which feeds Penal Substitutionary Atonement, which says that Jesus took your, my, et cetera, place on the cross.  So, according to this idea, Jesus was the innocent who died for you and me.  This is bad theology.  It is also only one of several interpretations of the Atonement dating to the age of the Church Fathers.

…God is love.

–1 John 4:8c, Revised Standard Version

Love does not say to Jesus or one of those who died in 2 Samuel 24, “I am really mad, but not with you.  So go, suffer, and die for another person’s sin(s).”  Yes, there is punishment for sins, but that is often passive on God’s part.  God does let our chickens come home to roost, even if only for a limited time.  But there is also mercy.  Judgment and mercy coexist in the Bible, as I have written many times in my devotional blog posts.

In the torture and death of Jesus, we see our Lord and Savior not only identifying with the outcasts of society, as he did when he dined with them, for example, but becoming one of them.  The Roman Empire did its worst to him, and it seemed to have succeeded briefly.  It shamed Jesus in an attempt to eliminate him, but our Lord refused to stay dead for long.  And so he pointed out the superior power of God, as well as the relative weakness of evil and the Roman Empire.  And, by grace, God transformed shame into triumph, hence the Church’s adoption of the cross as its symbol.  In Christ there is no more judgment, just mercy.  He is the Good Shepherd who takes care of all his sheep.

My theology of the Atonement, as I have written in other devotional blog posts, is that it is the result of the entire life cycle of Jesus of Nazareth, from Incarnation to Ascension.  The crucifixion was a vital part of the process, but the Resurrection was more important, for, without it, we would have dead Jesus.  There is no salvation in dead Jesus.

Jesus (the historical person, that is) was in the future tense for the timeframe of 2 Samuel 24, obviously.  But am I to believe that God’s personality changed drastically within a few centuries?  I hope not!  Instead, I state that theology, as recorded in the Bible, changed.  Jesus (and in this case, 1 John) trump 2 Samuel 24.

Often, when bad things happen, we search desperately for meaning.  “Why did these events happen?” we ask ourselves.  It can be tempting to understand them as divine retribution, but what kind of nature are we accusing God of having?  We need to think about that seriously during our reflections.


Week of 4 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1   15 comments

Above:  Christ Healing a Bleeding Woman

Let Us Lay Shame Aside and Emulate Jesus

FEBRUARY 2, 2021


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.


Hebrews 12:1-4 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Psalm 22:22-30 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

22 Praise the LORD, you that fear him;

stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;

all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.

23 For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;

neither does he hide his face from them;

but when they cry to him he hears them.

24 My praise is of him in the great assembly;

I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,

and those who seek the LORD shall praise him:

“May your heart love for ever!”

26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD,

and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

27 For kingship belongs to the LORD;

he rules over the nations.

28 To him alone who sleep in the earth bow down in worship;

all who go down to the dust fall before him.

29 My soul shall live for him;

my descendants shall serve him;

they shall be known as the LORD’s for ever.

30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn

the saving deeds that he has done.

Mark 5:21-43 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea.  Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at this feet, and begged him, saying,

My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.

And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.  And there was a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.  She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment.  For she said,

If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.

And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said,

Who touched my garments?

And his disciples said to him,

You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, “Who touched me?”

And he looked around to see who had done it.  But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  And he said to her,

Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

While he was still speaking, there came fro the ruler’s house some who said,

Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?

But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue,

Do not fear, only believe.

And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.  When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly.  And when he had entered, he said to them,

Why do you make a tumult and weep?  The child is not dead but sleeping.

And they laughed at him.  But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.  Taking her by the hand he said to her,

Talitha cumi;

which means,

Little girl, I say to you, arise.

And immediately the girl got up and walked; for she was twelve years old.  And immediately they were overcome with amazement.  And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.  Every bed on which she lies; all the days of her discharge, shall be to her the bed of impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity.  And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening….

–Leviticus 15:25-27 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

This was the woman’s condition in the reading from Mark.  Her physical problem, which the doctors she visited could not remedy, made her a social outcast and rendered her destitute.  This was cruelest element of her condition, and it had more to do with how others understood her (and therefore treated her) than with her medical state.  The power of culture is pervasive, but only as widespread as we permit it to be.  We could choose to be merely kind human beings, if we wanted to do so.  But no, often we go with the flow, join in group behavior, and find ways to justify cruelty to our fellow human beings.  We might not even recognize the cruelty of which we are guilty.

But Jesus was kind.  He healed her physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  And he restored her to society.  We are social creatures, so the opinions of our peers matter to us and affect us.  May we emulate Jesus, not this woman’s peers.

Consider the following, the paragraph on Total Depravity from A Brief Statement of Belief (1962), of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old “Southern” Presbyterian Church:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

This is true, is it not?

Wrapped around the tale of the woman with a menstrual hemorrhage is the story of a desperate father.  His twelve-year-old daughter was severely ill.  But Jesus, Jairus was convinced, could heal her.  Before the two men could arrive, however, the daughter died.  “Why trouble the teacher any further?” some wondered after this development.  But the woman with the hemorrhage did not trouble Jesus, and neither did the situation with the daughter of Jairus.

Here I place my second emphasis.  Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  He had compassion for people.  True, even he needed to get away for quiet time, as we have read already in Mark.  Yet he did not mind the woman with a hemorrhage or Jairus coming to him.  This was not without a physical cost to himself, but he paid it without complaint.  Here is one worthy of the label “Savior.”

I detect a third theme, one focused on blood.  In the Law of Moses the feminine discharge of blood renders one (and objects with which one comes into contact) unclean and impure.  Yet, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews alludes, the death and resurrection of Jesus changes everything.  The execution of Jesus was supposed to bring about shame (shame being a societal concept, not anything inherent to an individual) upon Jesus, but the crucifixion of Jesus became his exaltation in the Gospel of John.  In Christian sacramental theology blood has become something desirable, under the transubstantiated cover of wine.  Where then, is the shame associated with blood?

So I encourage you, O reader, to rejoice in the examples of Jesus and of the saints of who gone on before you.  We stand in the midst of a great cloud of witnesses, including that woman Jesus healed, Jairus, and (hopefully) his daughter.  They are neither foolish nor impure, and they are not really dead.  They are our family members in faith.  May we join their company one day.

Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est.

Where love is found to be authentic, God is there.


Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   23 comments

Above:  The Prophet Micah (Russian Orthodox Icon)

What God Requires of Us

FEBRUARY 2, 2020


Micah 6:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Hear what the LORD says:

Rise, plead your case before the mountains,

and let the hills hear your voice.

Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,

and you enduring foundations of the earth;

for the LORD has a controversy with his people,

and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?

In what have I wearied you?  Answer me!

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,

and redeemed you from the house of slavery;

and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,

what Balaam son of Beor answered him,

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

“With what shall I come before the LORD,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has told you, O mortal, what is good,

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?”

Psalm 15 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,

and speak the truth from their heart;

who do not slander with their tongue,

and do no evil to their friends,

nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

in whose eyes the wicked are despised,

but who honor those who fear the LORD;

who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

who do not lend money at interest,

and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

1 Corinthians 1:18-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written,

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Matthew 5:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, are counter-cultural in the best possible way.  They point to a divine order distinct from the human status quo.  If you have doubts, read the psalm again and ponder the economic order in much of the world.

The Matthew version of the Beatitudes (distinct from the Luke version) fit neatly with the God-centered counter-culture depicted in Psalm 15.  They depict a great reversal of fortune–a world in which those who grieve receive comfort, the meek inherit the earth, and those who are persecuted have reason to rejoice.  Perhaps the traditional, King James rendering of the first Beatitude obscures its meaning.  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  The late J. B. Phillips, in the second edition of his New Testament in Modern English (1972), got it right:

How happy are those who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

Likewise the second edition of the New Living Translation (2004) has Jesus say,

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

All of this is consistent with the excerpt from 1 Corinthians, which reminds us that human standards do not bind God.

The reading from Micah is perhaps most famous for the glorious 6:8, but some references in previous verses require explanation.  God had delivered the people of Israel and led them through the wilderness to the promised land with the cooperation of human leaders.  Shittim was the location of the last camp before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into Canaan; Gilgal was where they camped first after crossing the Jordan.  King Balak had plotted to have Balaam, a prophet-for-hire, curse his (Balak’s) enemies; God made sure that Balaam spoke the truth, regardless of what Balak thought about it.  The capstone of the reading from Micah is 6:8, which contains a brief summary of holiness:  “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God.

So we need to recognize our need for God, cease exploiting each other, and to extend kindness to each other.  This ethic negates much of the economic orders of the world.  As I write these words there is an ongoing corporate competition to decrease wages (and therefore the standard of living) due to lower wages elsewhere on the planet.  Then people cannot afford to keep the economy healthy or to purchase quality items, which have become too expensive for diminished budgets.  U.S. President William McKinley, in office  (whom I quote favorably rarely) stated correctly:

Cheap goods make for cheap men; and cheap men make for a cheap country.

(Historical note:  President McKinley was in office 1897-1901, assassinated early into his second term.)

I have learned of bail bondsmen in communities across the United States making deals with local judges to send non-violent accused to people to jail (not release them, bypassing jail and trusting them to keep their court dates), so that the bail bondsmen can bail these individuals out.  This, of course, is good business for the bail bondsmen, but what about the accused who are poor?  The wealthy accused can afford bail.  And this packing of local jails increases the public costs of incarceration, which is bad for communities.

Much of politics has relied for a very long time on impulses which run contrary to kindness.  Indeed, the great indifference, aversion, or even hostility to objective reality, hence leading to a “don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality proves destructive to the community and the nation.  And what would 24-hour alleged news channels do if they had to report only hard news–you know, the kind rooted in confirmed facts?  Kindness would kill their business model of stirring up the reptilian brain within their viewers–and facts be damned.  What matters most to these purveyors of punditry is a good mad.

Acting kindly can prevent many unnecessary problems for others.  This is not “rocket science;” much of this falls into the Lutheran category of “civic righteousness,” or good deeds we have the power to undertake on our own strength yet which cannot save us from our sins, or ourselves.  We can go far toward making the vision of Micah 6:8 reality, if only we will do so.  Selfishness is not a predetermined condition, for we can be altruistic.  Indeed, there is an evolutionary advantage inherent in altruism; it serves the common good, increasing the odds of the survival of the species.  (I like to listen to science programming on the radio via the Internet.)  So self-interest can take us far.  The missing piece is the one only God can provide.  Then, by grace, we can have a beloved community marked by true justice.


Written on June 16, 2010