Archive for the ‘Mark 7’ Tag

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

Peter's Vision of the Sheet with Animals

Above:  Peter’s Vision of the Sheet with Animals

Image in the Public Domain

The Clean and the Unclean

MARCH 4 and 5, 2019

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The Collect:

Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing,

yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

Transform us into the likeness of your Son,

who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity,

Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 26

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 35:1-29 (Monday)

Ezekiel 1:1-2:1 (Tuesday)

Psalm 35:11-28 (Both Days)

Acts 10:9-23a (Monday)

Acts 10:23b-33 (Tuesday)

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[Jesus] said to [his Apostles], “Even you–don’t you understand?  Can’t you see that nothing that goes into someone from the outside can make that person unclean, because it goes not int the heart but into the stomach and passes into the sewer?” (Thus he pronounced all foods clean.)  And he went on, “It is what comes out of someone that makes that person unclean.  For it is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions emerge:  fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean.

–Mark 7:18-23, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Ritual purity has long been a religious concern.  Separating oneself from the world (not always a negative activity) has informed overly strict Sabbath rules and practices.  (Executing a person for working on the Sabbath, per Exodus 35:2b, seems excessive to me.  I am biased, of course, for I have violated that law, which does not apply to me.)  Nevertheless, the Sabbath marked the freedom of the people, for slaves got no day off.  Ezekiel, living in exile in an allegedly unclean land, the territory of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, experienced a vision of the grandeur of God before God commissioned him a prophet.  Perhaps Ezekiel had, suffering under oppression, prayed in the words of Psalm 35:23,

Awake, arise to my cause!

to my defense, my God and my Lord!

The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Those who took Judeans into exile and kept them there were unclean and not because they were Gentiles but because of their spiritual ills, on which they acted.  As St. Simon Peter learned centuries later, there is no unclean food and many people he had assumed to be unclean were not really so.

The drawing of figurative lines to separate the allegedly pure from the allegedly impure succeeds in comforting the former, fostering more self-righteousness in them, and doing injustice to the latter.  May nobody call unclean one whom God labels clean.  May no one mark as an outsider one whom God calls beloved.  This is a devotion for the last two days of the Season after the Epiphany.  The next season will be Lent.  Perhaps repenting of the sins I have listed above constitutes the agenda you, O reader, should follow this Lent.  I know that it is one I ought to follow.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 29, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL MANZ, DEAN OF LUTHERAN CHURCH MUSIC

THE FEAST OF JOHN BUCKMAN WALTHOUR, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/the-clean-and-the-unclean/

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Devotion for Friday and Saturday Before the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Cuci_tangan_pakai_sabun

Above:  Washing Hands With Soap

Image Source = Serenity

Deeds and Rituals

FEBRUARY 7 and 8, 2020

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The Collect:

Lord God, with endless mercy you receive

the prayers of all who call upon you.

By your Spirit show us the things we ought to do,

and give us the grace and power to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 29:1-12 (Friday)

Isaiah 29:13-16 (Saturday)

Psalm 112:1-9 [10] (both days)

James 3:13-18 (Friday)

Mark 7:1-8 (Saturday)

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Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

–Psalm 112:4-5, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Ritualism, in and of itself, is positive.  It, paired with lived faith in God–the kind of faith which finds expression in, among other things, an active concern for what James 3:18 (The New Jerusalem Bible) calls

a harvest of justice,

is consistent with the witness of Hebrew prophets who decried judicial and political corruption and economic exploitation.  In fact, the instructions for the house of worship in the Law of Moses indicate a space designed for ritualism.  But the Law of Moses (when it does not call for stoning people or reflect a negative view of female biology) speaks of lived holiness for the community.

Many activities are positive.  Among these is washing one’s hands before eating–certainly a sanitary action.  Yet sanitation was not the concern Jesus addressed in Mark 7.  No, our Lord and Savior discussed tradition for its own sake and the sake of making some people appear holier than others.  He knew that washing hands could not purify one’s self-righteous attitude.  So rituals ought not to function as totems, which people imagine vainly will protect them from the wrath of God or merely from the consequences of their bad deeds and sins of omission.

May each of us engage in good deeds and rituals.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 10, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD; AND SAINT JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF YORK, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF VIDA DUTTON SCUDDER, WRITER

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/deeds-and-rituals/

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Week of 5 Epiphany: Friday, Year 2   7 comments

Above:  The Divided Monarchy

Donatism of a Sort

FEBRUARY 14, 2020

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

During that time Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem went out of Jerusalem and the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh met him on the way.  He had put on a new robe; and when the two were alone in the open country, Ahijah took hold of the new robe he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces.

Take ten pieces,

he said to Jeroboam.

For thus said the the LORD, the God of Israel:  I am about to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hands, and I will give you ten tribes.  But one tribe shall remain his–for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel….

Solomon dies and Rehoboam succeeds him and maintains and makes more severe his policies regarding “the harsh labor and the heavy yoke,” per 12:4 and 12:11

Thus Israel revolted against the House of David, as is still the case.

Psalm 81:8-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you:

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

There shall be no strange god among you;

you shall not worship a foreign god.

10 I am the LORD your God,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said,

“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

11  And yet my people did not hear my voice,

and Israel would not obey me.

12  So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts,

to follow their own devices.

13  Oh, that my people would listen to me!

that Israel would walk in my ways!

14  I should soon subdue their enemies

and turn my hand against their foes.

15  Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him,

and their punishment would last for ever.

16  But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat

and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

Mark 7:31-37 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Once more Jesus left the neighbourhood of Tyre and passed through Sidon towards the Lake of Galilee, and crossed the Ten Towns territory.  They brought to him a man who was deaf and unable to speak intelligibly, and they implored him to put his hand upon him.  Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself. He put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with his saliva.  Then, looking up to Heaven, he gave a deep  sigh and said to him in Aramaic,

Open!

And his ears were opened and immediately whatever had tied his tongue came loose and he spoke quite plainly.  Jesus gave instructions that they should tell no one about this happening, but the more he told them, the more they broadcast the news.  People were absolutely amazed, and kept saying,

How wonderfully he has done everything!  He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of 5 Epiphany:  Friday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/week-of-5-epiphany-friday-year-1/

Matthew 15 (Parallel to Mark 7):

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/fourth-day-of-advent/

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A Partial Chronology:

Reign of Solomon, a.k.a. Jedidiah or Yedidiah, King of (united) Israel = 968-928 B.C.E.

Reign of Rehoboam, King of Judah (southern kingdom) = 928-911 B.C.E.

Reign of Jeroboam I, King of Israel (northern kingdom) = 928-907 B.C.E.

Reign of Hoshea, last King of Israel = 732-722 B.C.E.

Reign of Zedekiah (Mattaniah), last King of Judah = 597-586 B.C.E.

–courtesy of The Jewish Study Bible, page 2111

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“What,” [King Rehoboam] asked [the elders who had served his father Solomon], “do you advise that we reply to the people who said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father placed upon us’?”  And the young men who had grown up with him answered, “Speak thus to the people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, now make it lighter for us.’  Say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins.  My father imposed a heavy yoke on you, and I will add to your yoke; my father flogged you with whips, but I will flog  you with scorpions.'”

–1 Kings 12:9-11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

Rehoboam obeyed that advice, to the detriment of his kingdom, which sundered during a predictable and predicted rebellion.  The leader of that uprising was Jeroboam, a former underling (in charge of forced labor in the House of Joseph–1 Kings 11:28) of Solomon who had been living in exile in Egypt.  There was popular support for Jeroboam, soon to become King Jeroboam I, but there might also have been Pharonic support, for Egypt attacked Rehoboam’s Judah but not Jeroboam’s Israel.  And, during the dueling reigns of Rehoboam and Jeroboam I, the two Jewish kingdoms were openly hostile to each other, fighting a war.

The text lays much of the responsibility for this state of affairs upon Solomon, but does not let Rehoboam off the hook either.  The new monarch of the House of David could have done as his people asked of him, but he chose not to do so.  For the best explanation of what happened immediately after the death of Solomon I turn to Voltaire:

Injustice in the end produces independence.

And, with two Jewish kingdoms, where there used to be one, fighting among themselves off and on, it became easier for foreign and more powerful powers to play them off each other and subdue and conquer them.

None of this had to happen.  It occurred because people in positions of power made certain decisions, which had consequences.  As the Gospel of Mark quotes Jesus in a different context,

…If a kingdom is divided against itself, then that kingdom cannot last…. (Mark 3:24, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition, 1972)

There is an obvious lesson here for leaders of nations, regardless of geography, timeframe, or political persuasion.  But what ought the rest of us learn from it?  What can we take away from it and apply in our public lives?

I am a student of ecclesiastical history.  In ancient Church history I point to the Donatist controversy, which divided northern African Christianity from the time following the Diocletian persecution to the spread of Islam. Beginning in the early 300s, there was a raging and divisive question:  Should the Church have forgiven and readmitted to its fellowship those who had repented of buckling under the harsh Diocletian persecution?  They had managed to avoid suffering by renouncing their faith.  The Roman Church, being in the forgiveness business, accepted heartfelt confessions.  This did not satisfy the holier-than-thou Donatists, however, so they broke away.  The Donatist schism persisted long after the original cause, weakening Christianity in that part of the world.

Modern-day Donatists of various types are with us today.  Every time some group breaks away to the ideological right (Church schisms are usually to the right.), there is Donatism of a sort.  Every time an exclusionary message leads to a denominational or congregational split, one sees evidence of Donatism of a sort.  Donatism in any age is that message which says, “Those people are not pure enough to be part of my church, for they are too lax.”  In the context of the Civil Rights Era U.S. South, some white congregations chose to exclude African Americans from membership.  That was also Donatism.  “Those people are not pure enough to be part of my church, for they are not white.”  There should be standards in the church, of course, but there is no way for loving Christian discipline to coexist with a holier-than-thou attitude.  And there should never be room for racism in the Church.

The Church is stronger when it is relatively unified, maintaining a balanced discipline while remaining in the forgiveness business.  We Christians have much work to do:  people to visit, feed, clothe, convert, and disciple.  This work is more than sufficient to keep us busy.  So I must conclude that, when we find the time to argue about issues Jesus never addressed, we are falling down on our jobs.  When we become so concerned about being theologically correct that we choose not to accept sincere confessions of sin and to forgive others, we have gone wrong.  Did not Jesus associate in public with disreputable and repentant people?

Here are the probing questions with which I leave you, and which only you, O reader, can answer:  Are you a Donatist?  If yes, what will you do about that?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/donatism-of-a-sort/

Week of 5 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 2   5 comments

Above:  An Eastern Orthodox Icon of Solomon

Faith–Individual and Communal

FEBRUARY 13, 2020

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Kings 11:1-13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

King Solomon loved many foreign women in addition to Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Phoenician, and Hittite women, from the nations of which the LORD had said to the Israelites,

None of you shall join them and none of them shall join you, lest they turn your heart away to follow their gods.

Such Solomon clung to and loved.  He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned his heart away.  In his old age, his wives turned Solomon’s heart after other gods; and he not as wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God as his father David had been.  Solomon followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Phoenicians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.

Solomon did what was displeasing to the LORD and did not remain loyal to the LORD like his father David.  At that time, Solomon built a shrine for Chemosh the abomination of Moab on the hill near Jerusalem, and one for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites.  And he did the same for all his foreign wives who offered and sacrificed to their gods.

The LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him about this matter, not to follow other gods; he did not obey what the LORD had commanded.  And the LORD said to Solomon,

Because you are guilty of this–yo have not kept My covenant and the laws which I enjoined upon you–I will tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants.  But, for the sake of your father David, I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it away from your son.  However, I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give your son one tribe, for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.

Psalm 132:11-19 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

11  The LORD has sworn an oath to David;

in truth, he will not break it:

12  ”A son, the fruit of your body

will I set upon your throne.

13  If your children keep my covenant

and my testimonies that I shall teach them,

their children will sit upon your throne for evermore.”

14  For the LORD has chosen Zion;

he has desired her for his habitation:

15  ”This shall be my resting-place for ever;

here will I dwell, for I delight in her.

16  I will surely bless her provisions,

and satisfy her poor with bread.

17  I will clothe her priests with salvation,

and her faithful people will rejoice and sing.

18  There will I make the horn of David flourish;

I have prepared a lamp for my Anointed.

19  As for his enemies, I will clothe them with shame;

but as for him, his crown will shine.”

Mark 7:24-30 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he got up and left that place and went off to the neighbourhood of Tyre.  There we went into a house and wanted no one  to know where he was.  But it proved impossible to remain hidden.  For no sooner had he got there, than a woman who had heard about him, and who had a daughter possessed by an evil spirit, arrived and prostrated herself before him.  She was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she asked him to drive the evil spirit out of her daughter.  Jesus said to her,

You must let the children have all they want first.  It is not right, you know, to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

But she replied,

Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs under the table eat the scraps that the children leave.

Jesus said to her,

If you can answer like that you can go home!  The evil spirit has left your daughter.

And she went back to her home and found the child lying quietly on her bed, and the evil spirit gone.

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of 5 Epiphany:  Thursday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/week-of-5-epiphany-thursday-year-1/

Matthew 15 (Parallel to Mark 7):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/proper-15-year-a/

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The theology of 1 Kings holds that faithlessness to God led to the decline of the Jewish kingdoms of the Old Testament.  The truth is not quite that simple, I maintain, for one must consider economic factors in the mix.  Marxian analysis rounds out the historical analysis nicely.  I covered some of that ground in the previous post.

There is also the question of how to relate to Gentiles.  The author of 1 Kings 11 preferred to stay away from them.  But Jesus went to them in Mark 7.  Tyre was, simply put, Gentiles Central.  Thus I propose that, if our Lord had wanted to avoid Gentiles, he would not have chosen to visit Tyre.  With that social context in mind, what might seem like an insult comes across as a statement meant to elicit a faithful response, which it did.

The proper question is not whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, but whether one is faithful.  A home ought to be a place for the nurturing of faith, so marrying within the faith makes sense to me, assuming that marriage is one’s vocation.  (There is nothing wrong with remaining single if that is one’s call from God.)  Nurturing faith is also the proper work of a congregation and certain other social support system one has.   Religion, which is somewhat personal, is also inherently public, not that this fact ought to lead to the establishment and maintenance of a theocracy.  Besides, mutual forbearance and toleration where respect fails at least has the virtue of fostering civility.  And, as Roger Williams, a minister and a colonial advocate of the separation of church and state, said, a prayer one utters under compulsion is meaningless.

As for me, I stand by and for certain propositions, but I do so without being habitually cranky.  Most of my professions, many of which I offer via this and other weblogs, are positive.  The grace of God is for all people–Jews and Gentiles.  The Apostle Paul and James, Bishop of Jerusalem, stirred up controversy by welcoming Gentiles.  These great men were correct, of course.  Simon Peter came to realize in Acts 10 that purity codes separating Jews from Gentiles were null and void.

I, as a Gentile, stand on the shoulders of these men.

An enduring lesson I offer you, O reader, is this:  Who are your “Gentiles,” those you consider impure, assuming, of course, that you make such judgments?  Like Peter, Paul, and James, and Jesus, may you reach out to them and welcome them in God’s Name, to the glory of God and for the benefit of your “Gentiles.”

KRT

Week of 5 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 2   7 comments

Above:  King Solomon Meets the Queen of Sheba

Image Source = Richardfabi

Regarding the Common

FEBRUARY 12, 2020

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Kings 10:1-10, 13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, through the name of the LORD, and she came to test him with hard questions.  She arrived in Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels bearing spices, a great quantity of gold, and precious stones.  When she came to Solomon, she asked him all she had in mind.  Solomon had answers for all her questions; there was nothing that the king did not know, [nothing] to which he could not give her an answer.  When the queen of Sheba observed all of Solomon’s wisdom, and the palace he had built, the fare of his table, the seating of his courtiers, the service and attire of his attendants, and his wine service, and the burnt offerings that he offered at the House of the LORD, she was left breathless.

She said to the king,

The report  heard in my own land about you and your wisdom was true.  But I did not believe the reports until I came and saw with my own eyes that even the half had been told me; your wisdom and wealth surpass the reports that I heard.  How fortunate are your men and how fortunate are these your courtiers, who are always  in attendance on you and can hear your wisdom!  Praised be the LORD your God, who delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel.  It is because of the LORD’s everlasting love for Israel that He made you king to administer justice and righteousness.

She presented the king with one hundred and twenty talents of gold, and a large quantity of spices, and precious stones.   Never again did such a vast quantity of spices arrive as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon….King Solomon, in turn, gave the queen of Sheba everything she wanted and asked for, in addition to what King Solomon gave her out of his royal bounty.  Then she and her attendants left and returned to her own land.

Psalm 37:1-7, 32-33, 41-42 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers;

do not be jealous of those who do no wrong.

2 For they shall soon whither like the grass,

and like the green grass they fade away.

3 Put your trust in the LORD and do good,

dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

Take delight in the LORD,

and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him,

and he will bring it to pass.

He will make your righteousness as clear as the light

and your just dealing as the noonday.

Be still and wait for the LORD

and wait patiently for him.

32  The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,

and their tongue speaks what is right.

33  The law of their God is in their heart,

and their footsteps shall not falter.

41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them;

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.

Mark 7:14-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he called the crowd close to him again, and spoke to them,

Listen to me now, all of you, and understand this.  There is nothing outside a man which can enter into him and make him “common”.  It is the things which come out of a man that make him “common”!

Later, when he had gone indoors away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about this parable.

“Oh, are you as dull as they are?”

he said.

Can’t you see that anything that goes into a man from outside cannot make him “common” or unclean?  You see, it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and passes out of the body altogether, so that all food is clean enough.  But,

he went on,

whatever comes out of a man, that is what makes a man “common” or unclean.  For it is from inside, from men’s hearts and minds, that evil thoughts arise–lust, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly!  All these evil things come from inside a man and make him unclean!

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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A Related Post:

Week of 5 Epiphany:  Wednesday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/week-of-5-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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The author of 1 Kings 10 means for us to admire the wealth and wisdom of Solomon.  In this account Solomon receives the esteemed and wealthy Queen of Sheba.  Sheba, for those of you who wonder, was probably Sabea, located where present-day Yemen occupies space on the world map.  Yemen, of course, has fallen on hard times, with its combination of high illiteracy, poverty, fertility, and social frustration on one hand and little opportunity for economic development on the other.  But it fared much better in ancient times.

Imagine reading or hearing this story while living in exile in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  “Those were the days!” people must have said in Hebrew.  Or imagine reading or hearing this account after the Persians allowed exiled Jews to return to their homeland, then a poor place in a backwater province.  “Those were days!” people must have said in Hebrew upon pondering Solomon’s prestige and wealth.

But I am an American.  As such, I am an heir of a revolution.  (Historians dispute the precise definition of the American Revolution–indeed a good question–but I am an heir of the American Revolution.)  To the extent that I am a monarchist, I am a constitutional one.  As an heir of the American Revolution, I assume the veracity and wisdom of certain Enlightenment theories of governance, and divine right monarchy is not one of them.  Nevertheless, I do not expect to detect foreshadowing of Montesquieu and Locke in the Hebrew Scriptures, for I know better than to look for them there.

For some germane background to 1 Kings 10, let us turn to 1 Kings 6:38-7:1, which tell us that the construction of the Temple took seven years and the building of Solomon’s palace required thirteen years.  The Temple was splendid, as the detailed descriptions of it and its furnishings in 1 Kings indicate.  How ornate, then, was Solomon’s palace, which took six more years to construct?  And who paid for all this?  You, O reader, can guess, can you not?  The taxpayers of the Kingdom of Israel did.  They also paid for the upkeep of the palace and for the royal wine.

1 Kings 10 speaks of how wise, wealthy, and respected Solomon was.  In the next chapter, however, the tone of the narrative changes.  That is where the Canadian Anglican lectionary will take us next, so I will reserve a discussion of those details for then.

1 Kings 10 makes clear that Solomon was most uncommon, and that this was supposed to be a compliment.  Being uncommon was a point of pride to the Pharisees.  To be uncommon was to be pure, and to be common was to be defiled, or impure.  In fact, the standard English translation in the reading from Mark is “defile,” but J. B. Phillips cut to the chase and rendered the Greek text as “make common.”  Haughty Pharisees delighted in not being like other people.  This is not necessarily a fault in a person, as I ponder the concept as an abstract notion, but I am not discussing an abstraction.  No, I am referring to a concrete situation.  Only those with a certain level of wealth could afford to keep the purity codes the Pharisees advocated, so their piety was one to which most people, who were poor, had no hope of achieving.  Thus the Pharisaic piety Jesus criticized was one which marginalized the vast majority of people.

It is no wonder that there was a rebellion after Solomon died.  His grandeur came at a cost to his subjects.  And I understand why Jesus disagreed with so many Pharisees.  Furthermore, as an heir of the American Revolution, which, ironically, colonial elites led, I like the common, to an extent.  The Revolution did lead in time to the extension of voting rights without regard to property, for example.  And the ideals of the American Revolution did bring into sharp relief the hypocrisy of maintaining slavery.  Furthermore, another ideal of the Revolution was that, given opportunity and motivation, one can improve himself and his social station.  So there was not an acceptance of the lowest common denominator embedded in the ideals of the Revolution.  To the extent that one considers the lowest common denominator “common,” I do not like the common.  However, so far as one shuns the systems of firmly fixed social orders and deference to elites, I do like the common.

There is great dignity embedded in every human being by virtue of the image of God present in each of us.  So may we not look down upon others, for they are also God-bearers–as much as Solomon was, the Pharisees were, and the vast population of people who, for financial reasons, could not keep their piety, were.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/regarding-the-common/

Week of 5 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 2   11 comments

Above:  Saint Peter Repentant, by Francisco de Goya

Mercy

FEBRUARY 11, 2020

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of the whole community of Israel; he spread the palms of his hands toward heaven and said,

O LORD God of Israel, in the heavens above and on earth below there is no God like You, who keep Your gracious covenant with Your servants when they talk before You in wholehearted devotion;….

But will God really dwell on earth?  Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House that I have built!  Yet turn, O LORD and God, to the prayer which Your servant offers before You this day.  May your eyes be open day and night toward this House, toward the place of which You have said, “My name shall abide there”; may You heed the prayers which Your servant and Your people Israel offer toward this place, give heed in Your heavenly abode–give heed and pardon….

Psalm 84 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!

My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house

and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;

by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,

my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house!

they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you!

whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,

for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height,

and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;

hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God;

and look upon the face of your Anointed.

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand in the threshold of the house of my God

than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the LORD is both sun and shield;

he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the LORD withhold

from those who walk with integrity.

12 O LORD of hosts,

happy are they who put their trust in you!

Mark 7:1-13 (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

And now Jesus was approached by the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem.  They had noticed that his disciples ate their meals with “common” hands–meaning that they had not gone through a ceremonial washing.  (The Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews, will never eat unless they have washed their hands in a particular way, following a traditional rule.  And they will not eat anything brought in the market until they have first performed their “sprinkling”.  And there are many other things which they consider important, concerned with the washing of cups, jugs, and basins.)  So the Pharisees and the scribes put this question to Jesus, “Why do your disciples refuse to follow the ancient tradition, and eat their bread with “common” hands?

Jesus replied, “You hypocrites, Isaiah described you beautifully when he wrote–

This people honoureth me with their lips,

But their heart is far from me.

But in vain do they worship me,

Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.

You are so busy holding on to the precepts of men that you let go the commandment of God!”

Then he went on, “It is wonderful to see how you can set aside the commandment of God to preserve your own tradition!  For Moses said, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother” and ‘He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death.’  But you say, ‘if a man says to his father or his mother, Korban–meaning, I have given God whatever duty I owed to you’, then he need not lift a finger any longer for his father or mother, so making the word of God impotent for the sake of the tradition which you hold.  And this is typical of much of what you do.”

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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A Related Post:

Week of 5 Epiphany:  Tuesday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/week-of-5-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

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The reading from 1 Kings 8 occurs in the context of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.  The presence of God is palpable at the Temple, and Solomon and the priests are awestruck with reverence.  The king, in a holy mood, asks God for mercy.

Mercy occupies the core the reading from Mark.  Korban was a custom whereby one gave property to the religious establishment.  Many people did this out of piety, but others did so out of spite for someone, thereby depriving that person of necessary financial and material support.  Some religious officials accepted Korban gifts even when they knew that the gift was spiteful.  So donor and recipient shared the hypocrisy of acting impiously while seeming to be holy.

To be holy, Jesus said, entails acting that way.  Our Lord agreed with Old Testament prophets:  It is not enough to observe holy rituals; one and a society must also care for the poor, root out judicial corruption, et cetera.  When we care for one another actively, we care for Jesus actively; when we do not tend to each other actively, we do not tend to Jesus actively (Matthew 25:31-46).

We have a vocation to extend mercy to one another, and there is a link between our judging or forgiving of others and God’s judging and forgiving of us.  (Matthew 7:1-5).  Forgiving someone and otherwise extending him or her mercy and patience can be difficult, as I know well, and you, O reader, might also understand.  Like Paul, we often find ourselves doing what we know we ought not to do and not doing what we know we should do (Romans 7:17f).

There is good news, however.  First, the fact that we have a moral sense indicates the presence of grace.  So let us begin by celebrating that.  Furthermore, more grace is available to help us forgive the other person, extend him understanding, and be patient with her.  With God’s help we will succeed.  Do we want to try?

May we lay aside moral perfectionism, therefore, and embrace and accept the grace of God.  Without making excuses and winking at the inexcusable, may we accept the reality that we are spiritually where we are spiritually, and that God can take us elsewhere.  But we must, if we are going to move along, proceed from where we are.  We are weak, yes; but God is strong.  Trusting in God and accepting our dependence on grace, may we walk with God, do the best we can, by grace, and keep going.  There is hope for us yet.  St. Peter became a great Christian leader, despite what his trajectory seemed to be for most of the narrative in the canonical Gospels.  As we say in the U.S. South, “Who would have thunk it?”

What can you become, by grace, for God, other people of God, and perhaps society?  God knows; are you willing to live into your vocation?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/mercy/

Week of 5 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  A Fig Tree

Image Source = Fir0002

Returning the Beauty of God to Earth

FEBRUARY 12, 2021

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 3:1-8 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And the snake was slier than every animal of the field that YHWH God had made, and he said to the woman,

Has God indeed said you may not eat from any tree of the garden?

And the woman said to the snake,

We may eat from the fruit of the trees of the garden.  But from the fruit of the tree that is within the garden God has said, “You shall not eat from it, and you shall not touch it, or else you’ll die.”

And the snake said to the woman,

You won’t die!”  Because God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God–knowing good and bad.

And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and that it was an attraction to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to bring about understanding, and she took some of its fruit, and she ate, and gave to her man with her as well, and he ate.  And the eyes of the two of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they picked fig leaves and made loincloths for themselves.

And they heard the sound of YHWH God walking in the garden and the wind of the day, and the human and his woman hid from YHWH God among the garden’s trees.

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

1 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!

3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,

because of my groaning all day long.

4 For your hand was 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.

6 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 their 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 7:31-37 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Once more Jesus left the neighbourhood of Tyre and passed through Sidon towards the Lake of Galilee, and crossed the Ten Towns territory.  They brought to him a man who was deaf and unable to speak intelligibly, and they implored him to put his hand upon him.  Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself. He put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with his saliva.  Then, looking up to Heaven, he gave a deep  sigh and said to him in Aramaic,

Open!

And his ears were opened and immediately whatever had tied his tongue came loose and he spoke quite plainly.  Jesus gave instructions that they should tell no one about this happening, but the more he told them, the more they broadcast the news.  People were absolutely amazed, and kept saying,

How wonderfully he has done everything!  He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Sin spoils creation.  The reading from Genesis describes the original sin, which is hubris, in mythological terms.  There is nothing wrong with knowing the difference between good and evil, but there is plenty wrong with seeking, on our own power, to be like God.  We are not God, and nothing will change that fact.  And we cannot hide from God, either, no matter how much we try.

I feel the need to make a few other comments about Genesis 3:1-8:

  1. The snake is just a snake.  It plays the role of the mythological trickster (such as Loki or Coyote), whose function is to introduce chaos into the established order and to challenge conventional rules of behavior.  Some tricksters are openly villainous, where as others are morally ambiguous.
  2. Later Christian tradition associates the snake with Satan.  This is not a Jewish understanding, and Genesis is a Jewish text.  By the way, the theology of Satan evolves throughout the Jewish Bible, so that the Satan (“the Adversary”) begins by working for God (as in Judges and Job) and ends by opposing God (post-Exilic period).  And, by the end of the First Century C.E., the Revelation to John tells the story of the Satan in such a way as to ignore the part about “the Adversary” ever working for God.  This seems like a good time for me state plainly that, due to my knowledge of the history of theology of the nature of Satan, I cannot and do not believe in the existence of Satan, or personalized evil.  (Call me a heretic if you please; I will take it as high praise.)
  3. Talmudic tradition states that the fruit Adam and Eve ate was the fig.  The choice of fig leaves to cover selected nakedness becomes ironic in that understanding of the story.

The story of Jesus continues in the Markan Gospel.  When last we read about Jesus in Mark, he was in Tyre, a city the Phoenicians had founded on the Mediterranean coast.  He was surrounded by Gentiles.  When we resume the story where we left off, we read that our Lord and Savior takes the scenic route to the Decapolis, a region with ten cities and many Gentiles, as well as a fair number of Jews.  Jesus is still surrounded by Gentiles.

There Jesus meets a deaf man with a speech impediment.  Of course the man has a speech impediment; he is deaf.  We humans learn to speak by listening to others.  Local superstition holds that spittle has curative powers, so Jesus uses what the man and his believe and puts a good shamanic show for everyone.  The power of the healing is not present in the show, however.  The Gospel of Mark tells of Jesus healing people with various conditions with a word, and even doing this in absentia.  Yet the shamanic show serves a purpose; Jesus is meeting the deaf man and his neighbors where they are.  He demonstrates respect and compassion for them in this way.  Our Lord and Savior sees a man who needs his help; he does not see a medical case.

Jesus tries to keep his Messianic secret, as he does elsewhere in the Markan Gospel.  But, as elsewhere in Mark, people talk anyway.  They say that he does all things well.

What, you ask, is the connective tissue between Genesis and Mark?  Funny you should ask.  William Barclay provides that connective tissue in his Daily Study Bible volume on the Gospel of Mark:

When Jesus came, bringing healing to men’s bodies and salvation to their souls, he had begun the work of creation all over again.  In the beginning everything has been good; man’s sin had spoiled it all; and now Jesus was bringing back the beauty of God to the world which man’s sin had rendered ugly.  (page 182)

We ought not get too big for our britches, a metaphor which fails to apply to Adam and Eve.  But God, in the form of Jesus, meets us where we are and in our own cultural context.  And, if we are willing to recognize who (and what) we are and who (and what) Jesus is, he can work with us to make us who (and what) we are supposed to become.  This might not be what we want to become, but God knows better than we do.   Details will vary according to each person, but the principle is constant:  Empowered by God, we are called to help communicate the beauty of God to a world sin has rendered ugly.

KRT

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O FOR A THOUSAND TONGUES TO SING

Words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

As printed in The Methodist Hymnal (1965), of The Methodist Church:

1.  O for a thousand tongues to sing

My great Redeemer’s praise,

The glories of my God and King,

The triumphs of his grace!

2.  My gracious Master and My God,

Assist me to proclaim,

To spread thro’ all the earth abroad

The honors of thy name.

3.  Jesus!  the name that charms our fears,

That bids our sorrows cease,

‘Tis music in the sinners’ ears,

‘Tis life, and health, and peace.

4.  He breaks the power of canceled,

He sets the prisoner free;

His blood can make the foulest clean;

His blood availed for me.

5.  He speaks, and listening to his voice,

New life the dead receive;

The mournful, broken hearts rejoice;

The humble poor, believe.

6.  Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,

Your loosened tongues employ;

Ye blind, behold your Savior come;

And leap, ye lame, for joy.

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/returning-the-beauty-of-god-to-earth/

Week of 5 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  Ruins at Tyre, Lebanon

Image Source = Heretiq

Against Prejudices

FEBRUARY 11, 2021

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 2:18-25 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And YHWH God said,

It’s not good for the human to be by himself.  I’ll make for him a strength corresponding to him.

And YHWH God fashioned from the ground every animal of the field and every bird of the skies and brought it to the human to see what he would call it.  And whatever the human would call call it, each living being, that would be its name.  And the human gave names to every domestic animal and bird of the skies and every animal of the field.  But He did not find for the human a strength corresponding to him.

And YHWH God caused a slumber to descend on the human, and he slept.  And He took one of his ribs and closed flesh in its place.  And YHWH God built the rib that He had taken from the human into a woman and brought her to the human.  And the human said,

This time is it:  bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh.  This will be called ‘woman,’ for this one was taken from ‘man.’

On account of this a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his woman, and they become one flesh.

And the two of them were naked, the human and his woman, and they were not embarrassed.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they all who fear the LORD,

and who follow in his ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine from within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus indeed be blessed.

5 The LORD bless you out of Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

6 May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Mark 7:24-30 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he got up and left that place and went off to the neighbourhood of Tyre.  There we went into a house and wanted no one  to know where he was.  But it proved impossible to remain hidden.  For no sooner had he got there, than a woman who had heard about him, and who had a daughter possessed by an evil spirit, arrived and prostrated herself before him.  She was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she asked him to drive the evil spirit out of her daughter.  Jesus said to her,

You must let the children have all they want first.  It is not right, you know, to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

But she replied,

Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs under the table eat the scraps that the children leave.

Jesus said to her,

If you can answer like that, you can go home!  The evil spirit has left your daughter.

And she went back to her home and found the child lying quietly on her bed, and the evil spirit gone.

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Tyre was a splendid city in the time of Jesus.  Today the ruins from that time are treasures of archaeology.  The city, located today in southern Lebanon, was also a Gentile domain.  Jesus seems not to have had qualms about being surrounded by Gentiles, who were “the other,” according to many of his co-religionists.  Jews were the Chosen People; Gentiles were not.  There were parts of the Jerusalem Temple complex Jews could enter but Gentiles could not.  And Gentile “God fearers,” who believed in the Jewish deity, were marginal because religious authorities decided they were.

Based on the internal evidence of the story and its placement within the Markan Gospel (immediately after a discourse on ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness), I conclude that the comments about feeding dogs were not sincere.  Rather, they constituted a test; they were a prompt for the Syrophoenecian woman to provide the desired rebuttal.  And Justa (as tradition calls her) secured deliverance for he daughter (known to tradition as Bernice) and became emblematic of the fact that Gentiles, too, may partake of grace.   Grace is inclusive, not exclusive.

Today we read this story and this analysis.  I, as a Gentile, agree that grace extends to me, as well as to the Jews.  But I should not stop there, and neither should you.  Part of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it continues to challenge our comfort zones.  Are we listening to these challenges, though?  So I ask you, as I ask myself the same question:  Who are our (my) Gentiles?

The psalm and the reading from Genesis speak of men and women.  The beautiful creation mythology from Genesis (so far) speaks of primordial innocence and gender equality.  This is apparent in the Hebrew, in which “helper” can also mean “strength;” thus the woman is the man’s “corresponding strength.”  And, in the Hebrew, as Richard Elliott Friedman writes in his commentary, Genesis 2:23 can also read in English as, “…This will be called ‘woman,” for this one was taken from ‘her man.”  This is parallel to “his woman” just one verse later.  The possessive pronoun does not indicate domination of one over the other.

Much of the narrative of the Christian Bible consists of the consequences of the end of primordial paradise and the divine efforts to restore humans to that state.  The human story in the Bible begins with paradise and ends with the New Jerusalem.  So we ought not to internalize socially defined concepts of inequality (with regard to race, gender, et cetera) and think that they are God’s will.  We should treasure and delight in each other, for everyone bears the image of God.  This is hard, and all fall short of the mark.

I am a history buff.  As such I recall a speech Sandra Day O’Connor, now retired from the United States Supreme Court, gave years ago.  She was working as an attorney in Arizona in the 1960s.  By state law, her husband received her paycheck.  Many people today like to criticize feminism, but feminists (literally those who believe in the equality of men and women) got such unjust laws overturned.  As a feminist and a heterosexual, I affirm that women are wonderful, many are beautiful, and all are equal to men.  Any individual or institution which does not affirm this equality in practice is in error.  Thus I affirm the ordination of women, for example.

Which prejudices do I affirm, consciously or unconsciously?  I need grace to make these and the error of them obvious to me, as well as to purge them.  Which prejudices do you affirm, consciously or unconsciously?  You, too, need grace to make these and the error of them obvious to you, as well as to purge them.  May the purging commence, or continue.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/against-prejudices/

Week of 5 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   11 comments

Above: A Sink

Image Source = Mets501

Actual and Imagined Purity

FEBRUARY 10, 2021

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

These are the records of the skies and the earth when they were created:  In the sky that YHWH made earth and skies–when all produce of the field had not yet been in the earth, and all vegetation of the field had not yet grown, for YHWH God had not rained on the earth, and there had been no human to work the ground, and a river had come up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground–

YHWH God fashioned a human, dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.

And YHWH God planted a garden in Eden at the east, and He set the human whom He had fashioned there.  And YHWH God caused every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for eating to grow from the ground, and the tree of life within the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.

And YHWH God took the human and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to watch over it.  And YHWH God commanded the human, saying,

You may eat from every tree of the garden.  But from the tree of knowledge of good and bad:  you shall not eat from it, because in the day you eat from it:  you’ll die!

Psalm 104:25, 28-31 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

25 O LORD, how manifold are your works!

in wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

28 All of them look to you

to give them their food in due season.

29 You give it to them; they gather it;

you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.

30 You hide your face, and they are terrified;

you take away their breath,

and they die and return to their dust.

31 You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;

and so you renew the face of the earth.

Mark 7:14-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he called the crowd close to him again, and spoke to them,

Listen to me now, all of you, and understand this.  There is nothing outside a man which can enter into him and make him “common”.  It is the things which come out of a man that make him “common!

Later, when he had gone indoors away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about this parable.

He said,

Oh, are you as dull as they are?  Can’t you see that anything that goes into a man from outside cannot make him ‘common’ or unclean?  You see, it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and passes out of the body altogether, so that all food is clean enough.  But,

he went on,

whatever comes out of a man, that is what makes a man ‘common’ or unclean.  For it is from inside, from men’s hearts and minds, that evil thoughts arise–lust, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly!  All these evil things come from inside a man and make him unclean!

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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One of the advantages to reading Biblical passages, especially those familiar to one, in translations (not just one version) is finding shades of meaning emphasized in various ways.  The J. B. Phillips New Testament in Modern English, the second edition of which I have quoted, is wonderful in that it fulfills this function well.

Compare the Phillips translation to other versions.  Phillips says “make a man ‘common.'”  More traditional translations say “defile him.”  What is it about being “common” that is allegedly defiling?  Ritual uncleanliness–in this case, tied to the washing of one’s hands before eating–was part of a purity code.  To be pure ritually was to be separate from–excuse the double entendre–the great unwashed.  I think of a parable Jesus told elsewhere.  A Pharisee and a tax collector (a tax thief and a Roman collaborator) were praying in the same space.  The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the tax collector and listed a catalog of his good works.   But the tax collector was humble before God, and he went away justified.

I have DVDs (available from the Learning Company) of Luke Timothy Johnson teaching about the Gospels.  Professor Johnson states that one of the themes in Mark is that the seeming insiders really are not insiders.  This analysis holds up well, based on my reading of that canonical Gospel.  What is more seemingly “inside” than the religious establishment?  Many of these people liked to cling to notions of ritual purity.  But, as Jesus tells us, that misses the point.  What is inside makes us pure or impure; what we consume does not.

The first part of the second creation myth from Genesis tells us that God breathed life into Adam.  I leave the details of life and evolution to scientists, and the specifics of theology to theologians.  Each is a different way of knowing, and both are valuable.  The myth does contain truths, and among them is this one:  we are all precious in the eyes of God.  We have that in common.

Imagined purity functions to define the allegedly pure as such and the different others as impure.  It reinforces class systems and religious prejudices.  Yet God, as the prophet Samuel said, does not look at us as we look at each other; God looks at who and what we really are.  Therein lies our purity or lack thereof.

Our challenge today is to examine ourselves and check ourselves for any indication of a fixation on ritual purity, regardless of the form it takes.  Are we viewing others as God perceives them, or in a way conducive to reinforcing our egos?

Miserere mei Deus.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/actual-and-imagined-purity/

Week of 5 Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  A Hand-Copied Bible in Latin

What is Good Religion?

FEBRUARY 9, 2021

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 1:20-2:4a (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And God said,

Let the water swarm with a swarm of living beings, and let birds fly over the earth on the face of the space of the skies.

And God created the big sea serpents and all the living beings that creep, with which the water swarmed, by their kinds, and every winged bird by its kind.  And God saw that it was good.  And God blessed them, saying,

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let birds multiply in the earth.

And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

And God said,

Let the earth bring out living beings by their kind, domestic animal and creeping thing and wild animals by their kind.

And it was so.  And God made the wild animals of the earth by their kind and the domestic animals by their kind and every creeping thing on the ground by their kind.  And God saw that it was good.

And God said,

Let us make a human, in our image, according to our likeness, and let them dominate the the fish of the fish of the sea and the birds of the skies and the domestic animals and all the earth and all the creeping things that creep on the earth.

And God created the human in His image.  He created it in the image of God.  He created them male and female.  And God blessed them, and God said to them,

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and dominate the fish of the sea and the birds of the skies and every animal that creeps on the earth.

And God said,

Here, I have placed all the vegetation that produces seed that is on the face of the earth for you and every tree, which has in it the fruit of a tree producing seed.  It will be food for you and for all the wild animals of the earth and for all the birds of the skies and for all the creeping things on the earth, everything in which there is a living being; every plant of vegetation, for food.

And it was so.

And God saw everything that He had made, and, here, it was very good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

And the skies and the earth and all their array were finished.  And in the seventh day God finished His work that He had done ceased in the seventh day from all His work that He had done.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because He ceased in it from doing all His work, which God had created.

Psalm 8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 O LORD our Governor,

how exalted in your Name is all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children

your majesty is praised above the heavens.

3 You have set up a stronghold against our adversaries,

to quell the enemy and the avenger.

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What is man that should be mindful of him?

the son of man that you should seek him out?

6 You have made him but a little lower than the angels;

you adorn him with glory and honor;

7 You gave him mastery over the works of your hands;

you put all things under his feet:

8 All sheep and oxen,

even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea,

and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O LORD our Governor,

how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Mark 7:1-13 (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

And now Jesus was approached by the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem.  They had noticed that his disciples ate their meals with “common” hands–meaning that they had not gone through a ceremonial washing.  (The Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews, will never eat unless they have washed their hands in a particular way, following a traditional rule.  And they will not eat anything brought in the market until they have first performed their “sprinkling”.  And there are many other things which they consider important, concerned with the washing of cups, jugs, and basins.)  So the Pharisees and the scribes put this question to Jesus,

Why do your disciples refuse to follow the ancient tradition, and eat their bread with “common” hands?

Jesus replied,

You hypocrites, Isaiah described you beautifully when he wrote–

“This people honoureth me with their lips,

But their heart is far from me.

But in vain do they worship me,

Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

You are so busy holding on to the precepts of men that you let go the commandment of God!

Then he went on,

It is wonderful to see how you can set aside the commandment of God to preserve your own tradition!  For Moses said, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother” and ‘He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death.’  But you say, ‘if a man says to his father or his mother, Korban–meaning, I have given God whatever duty I owed to you’, then he need not lift a finger any longer for his father or mother, so making the word of God impotent for the sake of the tradition which you hold.  And this is typical of much of what you do.

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Last night, after the 6:00 PM Holy Eucharist at my parish, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, I told my priest, Beth Long, that I never cease to be amazed by how many points of departure one can take from one day’s lectionary texts.  Invariably, my posts on a Sunday’s readings cover different ground than her sermons.  Both are valid, for the material is rich and varied.  I think of this point now because I detect many wonderful points to make, based on the assigned readings for Tuesday in the Week of 5 Epiphany, Year 1.  Yet I chosen just one path.  Perhaps the others will come up in future posts, for the Bible contains many recurring themes.

What is good religion?  Or, to state the question differently, what makes one religious in a good way?  To cite the Markan account, there is nothing wrong with washing one’s hands before eating.  Indeed, this is healthy.  Jesus was not referring to public health regulations, however; he had bigger fish to fry.  And germ theory was not known at the time.  The ceremonial washing of hands was part of an elaborate theology of ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness, for which Jesus had no use. Our Lord and Savior looked more deeply than that.

The late William Barclay wrote the following paragraph is his commentary on the Gospel of Mark:

There is no greater religious peril than that of identifying religion with outward observance.  There is no commoner religious mistake than to identify goodness with certain so-called religious acts.  Church-going, bible-reading, careful financial giving, even time-honored table-prayer do not make a man a good man.  The fundamental question is, how is a man’s heart toward God and towards his fellow-men?  And if in his heart there are enmity, bitterness, grudges, pride, not all the outward religious observances in the world will make him anything other than a hypocrite.

Who can stand before God as anything other than a hypocrite or an unrepentant sinner?  There might be a few of us on the planet who can do this, but I am not among them.  As for you, O reader, you must answer for yourself:  Are you among this rare, perhaps hypothetical population?  But thanks be to God, who has mercy on us and knows that we are all broken and “but dust.”  Yet it is also true, as the psalm and Genesis tell us, that we bear the image of God and rank above the other creature on the planet.  There is hope for us, and the source for this hope is God.  So may we refrain from placing too much emphasis on either the “dust” description or the “little lower than the angels” description.

But what makes religion good, and what makes one a practitioner of good religion?  The answer is love, which, as the Greek language makes clear, exists in various forms.  There is agape, God’s unconditional love for us.  And there is phileo, or brotherly love.  One might also experience storge, which exists between a parent and a child.  And, of course, there is eros, which is sexual love.  Each love has its proper place, and is good in that place.

I take my point from St. Paul the Apostle, who wrote the justly famous 1 Corinthians 13, which I quote verbatim from the New American Bible:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.   It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.  If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.  For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.  At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.  At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully as I am known.  So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The consistent Greek word for love in this passage is agape; “…the greatest of these is agape.”  Agape, which makes religion good, is available to us only via grace.  So let none of us boast, but trust God instead.  The outward signs will follow; they will flow from love.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/what-is-good-religion/