Archive for January 2012

Being Moral Consists of Far More Than Following a Checklist   1 comment

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew (1621), by Hendrick ter Brugghen

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 12:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now the LORD said to Abram,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.  When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.  At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said,

To your offspring I will give this land.

So he build there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD.  And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Psalm 33:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and the lyre.

3 Sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

For the word of the LORD is right,

and all his works are sure.

He loves righteousness and justice;

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

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

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

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

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

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Hosea 5:15-6:6 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Yahweh speaking]

I will return again to my place

until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.

In their distress they will beg my favor.

Come, let us return to the LORD;

for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;

he has struck down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;

on the third day he will raise us up,

that we may live before him.

Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;

his appearing is as sure as the dawn;

he will come to us like the showers,

like the spring rains that water the earth.

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

Your love is like a morning cloud,

like the dew that goes away early.

Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,

I have killed them by the words of my mouth,

and my judgment goes forth as the light.

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

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

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

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he-goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

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

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

13 Do you think that I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.

SECOND READING

Romans 4:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version):

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)–in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said.  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old) or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Now the words, “it was reckoned to him” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 (New Revised Standard Version):

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him,

Follow me.

And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples,

Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?

But when he had heard this, he said,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying,

My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.

And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.  Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself,

If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said,

Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.

And instantly the woman was made well.  When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said,

Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.

And they laughed at him.  But when the crowd had been put outside, he went up and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.  And the report of this spread throughout that district.

The Collect:

O God, from whom all good proceeds:  Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Second Reading reading for this Sunday ties into the Genesis option for the First Reading, and the Gospel Reading connects to the Hosea choice for the First Reading.  And everything links together into a wonderful and consistent package.  My summary of that package is this:  Being moral consists of far more than living according to a checklist of “You shall” and “You shall not” statements.  Rather, proper priorities form the seat of morality.  And what is more moral than showing mercy and trusting in God?

Let us begin with Jesus and work backward from there.  First, he ate with tax collectors and other notorious sinners.  This was a great scandal to those preoccupied with ritual purity.  Besides, a self-respecting person concerned about ritual purity took great care in choosing with whom he broke bread.  Tax collectors were not salaried people, so they collected the Roman imperial rate plus the money they used to support themselves.  They were tax thieves.  This was common knowledge, and they were despised, considered traitors to their own Jewish people.  And here was Jesus, eating with them!  In North America we have a cliche:  He who lies down with dogs rises with fleas.  There was probably a similar saying in Aramaic.  But Jesus did not seek respectability according the such standards.  The other notorious sinners violated many parts of the Jewish law code, probably without remorse.  But the law was so complicated that only a small elite proportion of the population could obey the law in its entirety, as they interpreted it.  Yet these men, who lived according to the letter of the law, that is, a checklist, frequently violated the spirit of said law.  So even they broke the religious law.

You see, O reader, nobody could keep the law in its entirety, spirit and letter.  This, I think, is part of why Paul emphasized the role of faith.  As a former legalist, he understood this lesson well.  And Paul, by mentioning Abraham, a paragon of faith, made a chronology-based point that the great patriarch’s righteousness could not and did not rely on the law, for Abraham lived and died before the days of Moses.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus quoted Hosea, channeling Yahweh:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Note:  The difference in translation between Hosea and Matthew is easy to explain.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew quoted the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.)

Jesus showed mercy to his dinner guests, whose potential he recognized.  He knew what they were but focused on what they could become.  May we look upon others in the same way.

And Jesus showed mercy on his way to satisfy the request of a grieving father.  The woman with the hemorrhage was, by the Law of Moses, ritually impure.  She had been for years.  Imagine how desperate she must have been for healing and restoration to society, for she was marginalized and destitute.  Her plight was itself an indictment of the law.  Jesus had mercy on this woman who had nothing but faith and helped Jairus, who had only one alternative to faith.  That alternative was to bury his daughter.

As one reads the four canonical gospels closely, one notices that Jesus violated and countermanded aspects of the religious law, as the Pharisees practiced it.  He did not wash his hands ritually.  He gleaned food from fields on the Sabbath.  He did not maintain a morality checklist beyond loving God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.  One rule, treating others as one wants others to treat one, covers much of morality in just a few words.

As a student of U.S. history and of religion, I know the well-plowed ground that is the sad tale of how many professing Christians in Antebellum America quoted the Bible to justify slavery.  (The best book to cover this material is H. Shelton Smith’s In His Image, But….)  The pro-slavery case rested mostly on a a literal reading of selected passages of scripture, along with creative explanations about how keeping someone enslaved is consistent with the Golden Rule.  The anti-slavery case rested almost entirely on the Golden Rule.  And really, what else should it have needed?  The pro-slavery interpretation of the Bible was a highly selective checklist attempting to maintain the letter of the law; it was masterpiece of prooftexting.  But the anti-slavery case was gloriously simple, focusing on the spirit of the law.

I challenge you, O reader, as much as I challenge myself, to focus on the letter of the law and to let the details fall into the place.  This letter of the law is really quite simple:

  • Love and trust the Lord your God with everything you have and are.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Live mercifully.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 20, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF LEO TOLSTOY, NOVELIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MECHTILD OF MAGDEBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/proper-5-year-a/

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In Praise of True Piety   1 comment

Above:  A Mite from the Reign of Alexander Jannaeus, Hasmonean Priest-King of Judea, 103-76 B.C.E.

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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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Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20 (Revised English Bible):

After the wedding celebrations were over, Tobit sent for Tobias.

My son,

he said,

when you pay for the man who went with you, see that you give him something extra, over and above his wages.

So Tobias called him and said,

Half of all that you have brought with you is to be yours for your wages; take it, and may you fare well.

Then Raphael called them both aside and said to them:

“Praise God, and in the presence of all living creatures thank you for the good he has done you, so that they may sing hymns of praise to his name.  Proclaim to all the world what God has done; pay him honour and give him willing thanks.  A king’s secret ought to be kept, but the works of God should be publicly acknowledged.  Acknowledge them, therefore, and pay him honour.  Do good, and no evil will befall you.  Better prayer with sincerity, and almsgiving with righteousness, than wealth with wickedness.  Better give alms than hoard up gold.  Almsgiving preserves from death and wipes out every sin.  Givers of alms will enjoy long life; but sinners and wrongdoers are their own worst enemies.

I will tell you the whole truth, hiding nothing from you. I have already made it clear to you that while a king’s secret ought to be kept, the works of God should be glorified in public.  Now Tobit, when you and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought your prayers to be remembered in the glorious presence of the Lord.  So too when you buried the dead:  that day when without hesitation you got up from your meal to bury dead man, I was sent to test you.  At the same time God sent me cure both you and Sarah your daughter-in-law.  I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in attendance of the Lord and enter his glorious presence….And now praise the Lord, give thanks to God here on earth; I am about to ascend to him who sent me.  Write down everything that has happened to you.

Psalm 65:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come,

because of their transgressions.

3 Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out.

4 Happy are they whom you choose

and draw to your courts to dwell there!

they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,

by the holiness of your temple.

Mark 12:38-44 (Revised English Bible):

There was a large crowd listening eagerly.  As he taught them, he said,

Beware of the scribes, who love to walk up and down in long robes and be greeted respectfully in the street, and to have the chief seats  in synagogues and places of honour at feasts.  Those who eat up the property of widows, while for appearance’s sake they say long prayers, will receive a sentence all the more severe.

As he was sitting opposite the temple treasury, he watched the people dropping their money into the chest.  Many rich people were putting in large amounts.  Presently there came a poor widow who dropped in two tiny coins, together worth a penny.  He called his disciples to him and said,

Truly I tell you:  this poor widow has given more than all those giving to the treasury; for the others who have given had more than enough, but she, with less than enough, has given all that she had to live on.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Bible does contradict itself.  For example, Tobit, Psalms, and Proverbs link piety and good fortune to each other, but Ecclesiastes is more realistic and Jesus and Paul recognize that suffering flows from righteousness much of the time.  Being a Christian, I side with Jesus.  This fact does not prevent me from enjoying the Book of Tobit, however, even if I reject the formulation that almsgiving atones for all sins.

I choose to focus on the positive instead.  The entire extended family of Tobit is now healed, thanks to divine actions.  And Raphael reveals his actual identity and returns to Heaven.  Before he departs, however, he utters timeless wisdom:

A king’s secret ought to be kept,

but the works of God should be publicly acknowledged.

Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, tops off a series of conversations (mostly confrontations) by condemning scribes who display false piety in public for the sake of status.  They have honor because social rules say they do.  This honor is worthless in the eyes of God, Jesus says.  These honor seekers are really predators who “eat up the property of widows.”  This is an apt description of temple tithes imposed upon the poor.  Then Jesus observes wealthy people giving large amounts of money they would never miss and a widow depositing two mites, a much smaller sum.  Her offering impresses him the most.  She trusts God, and the others do not.

These offerings supported the Temple system, which of the Jesus of Mark opposed.  This point should be plain by now to anyone who has been reading this Gospel for twelve chapters.  The widow gave money because her society expected it of her and because this was the piety she had learned.  Her sincerity and trust impressed Jesus.  I read this story and come away with a second thought:  Why should anyone expect such a widow to support the corrupt Temple system?  She should have used the two mites for necessities.  God would not have held that decision against her, I think.

Besides, organized religion cannot contain all of true piety.  The widow already practiced this piety, for she trusted God to provide for her needs.  And she acknowledged it in public.  That impressed Jesus.

It is well and good to seek to understand the meaning of a Bible story first within the contexts of history, culture, and texts.  Indeed, we need to begin there.  Then we need to move to the next level, which is contemporary application.  So I leave you, O reader, with open-ended questions:

  • How much do you trust God?
  • Are you helping to support a modern counterpart to the corrupt Temple system of Jesus’ time?

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY, PRINCESS

THE FEAST OF FRANZ SCHUBERT, COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/week-of-proper-4-saturday-year-1/

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Posted January 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Mark 12, Psalm 65, Tobit

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Yahweh is Good   1 comment

Above:  The Healing of Tobit, by Bernardo Strozzi (1581-1644)

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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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Tobit 11:5-18 (Revised English Bible):

Anna sat watching the road by which her son would return.  She caught sight of him coming and exclaimed to his father,

Here he comes–your son and the man who went with him!

Before Tobias reached his father’s house Raphael said,

I know for certain that his eyes will be opened.  Spread the fish-gall on them; this remedy will make the white patches shrink and peel off.  Your father will get his sight back and see the light of day.

Anna ran forward, flung her arms round her son, and said to him:

Now that I have seen you again, my child, I am ready to die.

And she wept.

As Tobit rose to his feet and came stumbling out through the courtyard gate, Tobias went up to him with the fish-gall in his hand.  He blew into his father’s eyes and then, taking him by the arm and saying,

Do not be alarmed, father,

he applied the remedy carefully and with both hands peeled off the patches from the corners of Tobit’s eyes.  Tobit threw his arms round him and burst into tears.

I can see you, my son, the light of my eyes!

he cried.

Praise be to God, and praise to his great name and to all his holy angels.  May his great name rest on us.  Praised be all the angels for ever and ever.  He laid his scourge on me, and now, look, I see my son Tobias!

Tobias went inside, rejoicing and praising God with all his might.  He told his father about the success of his journey and the recovery of the money, and how he had married Raguel’s daughter Sarah.

She is on her way,

he said,

quite close to the city gate.

Tobit went out joyfully to meet his daughter-in-law at the gate, praising God as he went.  At the sight of him passing through the city in full vigour and walking without anyone to guide his steps, the people of Nineveh were amazed; and Tobit gave thanks to God before him all his mercy in opening his eyes.

When he met Sarah, the wife of his son Tobias, he blessed her and said to her:

Come in, daughter, welcome!  Praise be to God who has brought you to us.  Blessings on your father and mother, and on my son Tobias, and blessings on you, my daughter.  Come into your home, and may health, blessings, and joy be yours; come in, my daughter.

For all the Jews in Nineveh it was a day of joy, and Ahikar and Nadab, Tobit’s cousins, came to share his happiness.  The joyful celebrations went on for a week, and many were the presents given to them.

Psalm 146 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the LORD as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,

for there is not help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth,

and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!

whose hope is in the LORD their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;

who keeps his promise for ever.

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,

and food to those who hunger.

The LORD sets the prisoner free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;

the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down.

8 The LORD loves the righteous;

the LORD cares for the stranger;

he sustains the orphan and the widow,

but frustrates the way of the wicked!

The LORD shall reign for ever,

your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Hallelujah!

Mark 12:35-37 (Revised English Bible):

As he taught in the temple, Jesus went on to say,

How can the scribes maintain that the Messiah is a son of David?  It was David himself who said, when inspired by the Holy Spirit,

“The Lord said to my Lord,

‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”

David calls himself “Lord”; how can he be David’s son?”

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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1 The LORD said to my lord,

“Sit at My right hand

while I make your enemies your footstool.”

The LORD will stretch from Zion your mighty scepter;

hold sway over your enemies!

3 Your people come forward willingly on your day of battle.

In majestic holiness, from the womb,

from the dawn, yours was the dew of youth.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not relent,

“You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree.”

The Lord is at your right hand.

He crushes kings in the day of his anger.

6 He works judgment upon the nations,

heaping up bodies,

crushing heads far and wide.

He drinks from the stream on his way;

therefore he holds his head high.

–Psalm 110, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), of the Jewish Publication Society

This day’s reading from Mark is short and confusing on its face.  But, when one considers it in literary context and reads the psalm Jesus quotes, the meaning becomes clear.  Many people expect Jesus to be a conquering hero, but he is actually a different kind of Messiah.  Recall that the concept of Messiahship in the Gospel of Mark is that the Messiah must suffer, die, and rise again; that is how his Messianic identity will become clear.  The goodness of Yahweh shines through Jesus, but not in the way that many people expect.  Jesus was not what they wanted him to be.  This was not his fault; it was solely theirs.

Does Jesus disappoint us?  Is he not what what we expect or want?  If so, the fault is solely ours.  We have not been paying sufficient attention to the available evidence.  His life and example demonstrate that Yahweh is good.  What else do we expect or want?

The name Tobias means “Yahweh is good.”  The Book of Tobit teaches that Yahweh is good, too.  Not only did Tobias survive his wedding night, but Raphael expelled the demon Asmodaeus.  A two-week wedding feast followed, and Tobias, Sarah, and Raphael (disguised as the kinsman Azarias) departed for Nineveh, with Tobit’s money.  Meanwhile, Tobit and Anna were concerned that Tobias had met an unfortunate fate.  Soon, however, Tobit had his sight back and met his daughter-in-law.  Everybody was happy, and the Jewish community of Nineveh rejoiced.  God was good, indeed.

I am convinced that God does care for us, and that God sends help our way.  But do we recognize it?  One reason we human beings exist on this planet is to assist each other, so we are supposed to function as vehicles of grace.  We are supposed to behave in a sacramental way toward each other.  The catechism from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer defines the sacraments:

The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

The Church has seven sacraments:  Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Confession, Matrimony, Unction, and Holy Orders.  These are wonderful, and I respect all of them.  I have, in fact, participated in most of them.  And I am convinced that there is an eighth sacrament:  practiced human kindness, the act of participating in God’s grace toward another human being.  God, in Jesus, has established a fine example to follow.

Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 17, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROSE-PHILIPPINE DUCHESNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC CONTEMPLATIVE

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUGH OF LINCOLN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROQUE GONZALEZ DE SANTA CRUZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/week-of-proper-4-friday-year-1/

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Posted January 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Mark 12, Psalm 110, Psalm 146, Tobit

Tagged with ,

Finally, A Sincere Question!   3 comments

Above:  First Paragraph of the Shema in Hebrew

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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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Tobit 6:9-11; 7:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

When Tobias had entered Media and was already approaching Ecbatana, Raphael said to the youth,

Tobias, my friend.

He replied,

Yes.

Raphael said:

We must stay tonight with Raguel, who is a relative of yours.  He has a daughter named Sarah, but no other children, neither sons nor daughters.   You as her next of kin have the right to marry her and inherit the girl’s property….

As they entered Ecbatana Tobias said,

Azarias, my friend, take me straight to our kinsman Raguel.

So he took him to Raguel’s house, where they found him sitting by the courtyard gate.  They greeted him first, and he replied,

Greetings to you, my friends.  You are indeed welcome.

When he brought them into his house, he said to Edna his wife,

Is not this young man like my kinsman Tobit?

Edna questioned him,

Friends, where do you come from?

They answered,

We belong to the tribe of Naphtali, now in captivity at Nineveh.

She asked,

Do you know our kinsman Tobit?

They replied,

Yes, we do.

She said,

Is he well?

They answered,

He is alive and well

and Tobias added,

He is my father.

Raguel jumped up and, with tears in his eyes, he kissed him.

God bless you, my boy,

he said,

son of a good and upright father.  But what a calamity that so just and charitable a man has lost his sight!

He embraced Tobias his kinsman and wept; Edna his wife and their daughter Sarah also wept for Tobit.

Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock and entertained them royally.  They bathed and then, after washing their hands, took their places at the meal.  Tobias said to Raphael,

Azarias, my friend, ask Raguel to give me Sarah my kinswoman.

Raguel overheard this and said to the young man:

Eat and drink tonight, and enjoy yourself. There is no one but yourself who should have my daughter Sarah; indeed, I ought not to give her anyone else, since you are my nearest kinsman.  However, I must reveal the truth to you, my son:  I have given her in marriage to seven of our kinsmen, and they all died on their wedding night.  My son, eat and drink now, and may the Lord deal kindly with you both.

Tobias answered,

I shall not eat again or drink until you have disposed of this business of mine.

Raguel said to him,

I shall do so:  I give her to you in accordance with the decree in the book of Moses, and Heaven itself has decreed that she shall be yours.  Take your kinswoman; from now on belong to her and she to you, from today she is yours for ever.  May all go well with you both this night, my son; may the Lord of heaven grant you mercy and peace.

Raguel called for Sarah and, when she came, he took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias with these words:

Receive my daughter as your wedded wife in accordance with the law, the decree written in the book of Moses; keep her and take her safely home to your father.  And may the God of heaven grant you prosperity and peace.

Then he sent for her mother and told her to fetch a roll of papyrus, and he wrote out and put his seal on a marriage contract giving Sarah to Tobias as his wife according to this decree.  After that they began to eat and drink.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who fear the LORD,

and who follow in your ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

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

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus be blessed.

The LORD bless you from Zion,

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

May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Mark 12:28-34 (Revised English Bible):

Then one of the scribes, who had been listening to these discussions and had observed how well Jesus answered, came forward and asked him,

Which is the first of all the commandments?

He answered,

The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’   The second is this:  ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these.

The scribe said to him,

Well said, Teacher.  You are right in saying that God is one and beside him there is no other.  And to love him with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself–that means far more than any whole-offerings and sacrifices.

When Jesus saw how thoughtfully he answered, he said to him,

You are not far from the kingdom of God.

After that nobody dared put any more questions to him.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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THE SHEMA

Hear, Israel:  the LORD is our God, the LORD our one God; and you must love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments which I give you this day are to be remembered and taken to heart; repeat them to your children, and speak to them both indoors and out of doors, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them as a sign on your hand and wear them as a pendant on your forehead; write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

–Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (Revised English Bible)

The recent arc of the Markan narrative in the lectionary has been one of Jesus fielding insincere questions.  But, at the end of this part of the story, a scribe asks an intelligent and sincere question:  What is the greatest commandment.  This man receives a reply unlike the one Jesus had for the Sadducees just a few verses ago:  “You are so far from the truth!”  In this case, Jesus quotes the Shema, a duly famous part of the Law of Moses, and amends it:  We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The scribe agrees with the answer, and Jesus says that the man is near to the kingdom of God.  Did the scribe complete the journey?  The texts are silent on that point, but I hope the answer is affirmative.

Too often certain people and institutions who claim the Christian label become caught up in legalism and call this holiness.  For example, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) began in the 1800s as a Restorationist body claiming the Bible alone as its source of authority in matters of doctrine and practice.  For a while men were not allowed to wear neckties to church; the denomination was that strict.  The Anderson, Indiana, group liberalized by 1910-1911, when it permitted men to wear neckties to church.  This was one issue that prompted the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma) to break away; it opposed neckties.  (My source = Encyclopedia of American Religions)

In the 1960s, in rural Kathleen, Georgia, parents began to offer a regular Saturday night chaperoned dance at the fellowship hall of Andrew Chapel Methodist Church.  This was an event for local youth, so they would have something positive to do on the weekend.  One night, the pastor of a local Baptist church made an unfortunate scene at one of these dances when he complained loudly about all the allegedly sinful dancing taking place indoors.  Some of his parishioners were at that dance, and that pastor had to seek other employment shortly thereafter.  (My source = the United Methodist minister who had served as pastor of Andrew Chapel in the 1960s)

These are just two examples of what has happened when people seeking to obey God become so lost in the trees that they lose sight of the forest.  If we will focus on loving people as ourselves, for example, many details will fall into place.  It is laudable to love the Bible, but not to seek permission for every minute detail (such as whether it is proper to wear a necktie) in its pages.  And the denunciation of all dancing as sinful is an old saw, one that ought to die.

As Jesus reiterated, we need to love God fully.  After all, God loves us.  The Book of Tobit tells a fictional story of that love.  After the events of the previous excerpt from Tobit, the elderly blind man sends his son to Ectabana, in Media, to visit a family friend with whom Tobit had deposited money.  (Tobit and Anna needed the money now.)  The archangel Raphael, disguised as Azarias, a kinsman of Tobias, accompanies Tobit’s son to Ecbatana and helps ensure the successful match-making between Tobias and Sarah.  The divine healing of Sarah then Tobit is about to commence in the narrative.

The scriptures say that God wants to be gracious to us.  May we respond favorably to God and extend grace to others, as we have opportunity.  Yesterday I had the chance to be extraordinarily kind to a student experiencing a medical situation.  It will not derail her progress in my course; I will not permit it to do so.  I mention this for one reason:  Everything I have learned from my formative years tells me that my decision was the only proper one.  So, when the opportunity to function as an agent of grace presented itself, I never considered doing anything else.  Yes, I broke rules to do this, but God has broken rules in order to extend grace to many of us again and again.  I have learned the meaning of the words of Jesus:

Go and do likewise.

All praise to the God of mercy!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET OF SCOTLAND, QUEEN

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIUSEPPE MOSCATI, PHYSICIAN

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/week-of-proper-4-thursday-year-1/

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God Heals   1 comment

Above:  Raphael the Archangel, According to Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

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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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Tobit 3:1-11, 15c-17 (Revised English Bible):

In deep distress I groaned and wept aloud, and as I groaned I prayed:

O Lord, you are just and all your ways are merciful and true; you are the Judge of the world.  Now bear me in mind, Lord, and look upon me.  Do not punish me for the sins and errors which I and my fathers have committed.  We have sinned against you and disobeyed your commandments, and you have given us up to the despoiler, to captivity and death, until we have become a proverb and a byword; we are taunted by all the nations among whom you have scattered us.  I acknowledge the justice of your many judgements, the due penalty for our sins, for we have not carried out your commandments or lived in true obedience before you.  And now deal with me as you will.  Command that my life be taken away from me so that I may be removed from the face of the earth and turned to dust.  I would rather be dead than alive, for I have had to listen to taunts I have not deserved and my grief is great.  Lord, command that I be released from this misery; let me go to the eternal resting-place.  Do not turn your  face from me, Lord; I had rather die than live in such  misery, listening to such taunts.

On the same day it happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel who lived at Ectabana in Media, also had to listen to taunts, from one of her father’s servant-girls.  Sarah had been given in marriage to seven husbands and, before the marriage could be duly consumated, each one of them had been killed by the evil demon Asmodaeus.  The servant said to her:  “It is you who kill your husbands!  You have already been given in marriage to seven, and you have not borne the name of any of them.  Why punish us because they are dead?  Go and join your husbands.  I hope never to see son or daughter of yours!”

Deeply distressed at that, she went in tears to the roof-chamber of her father’s house, meaning to hang herself.  But she had second thoughts and said to herself:

Perhaps they will taunt my father and say, ‘You had one dear daughter and she hanged herself because of her troubles,’ and so I shall bring my aged father sorrow to his grave.  No, I will not hang myself; it would be better to beg the Lord to let me die and not live on to hear such reproaches.

Thereupon she spread out her hands towards the window in prayer saying,

Praise be to you, merciful God, praise to your name for evermore; all creation praise you for ever!…Already seven husbands of mine have died; what have to live for any longer?  But if it is not your will, Lord, to let me die, have regard to me in your mercy and spare me those taunts.

At that very moment the prayers of both were heard in the glorious presence of God, and Raphael was sent to cure the two of them:  Tobit by removing the white patches from his eyes so that he might see God’s light again, and Sarah daughter of Raguel by giving her in marriage to Tobias son of Tobit and by setting her free from the evil demon Asmodaeus, for it was the destiny of Tobias and of no other suitor to possess her.  At the moment when Tobit went back into his house from the courtyard, Sarah came down from her father’s roof-chamber.

Psalm 25:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

my God, I put my trust in you;

let me not be humiliated,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

Let none who look to you be put to shame;

let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3 Show me your ways, O LORD,

and teach me your paths.

4 Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love,

for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;

remember me according to your love

and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

Gracious and upright is the LORD;

therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8 He guides the humble in doing right

and teaches his way to the lowly.

Mark 12:18-27 (Revised English Bible):

Next Sadducees, who maintain that there is no resurrection, came to him and asked:

Teacher, Moses laid it down for us that if there are brothers, and one dies leaving a wife but no child, then the next should marry the widow and provide an heir for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  The first took a wife and died without issue.  Then the second married her, and he too died without issue; so did the third; none of the seven left any issue.  Finally the woman died.  At the resurrection, when they rise from the dead, whose wife will she be, since all seven had married her?

Jesus said to them,

How far you are from the truth!  You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.  When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; they are like angels in heaven.

As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story of the burning bush, how God spoke to him and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but the God of the living.  You are very far from the truth.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Voltaire wrote that, if God created human beings in his image, we have more than returned the favor.  Yes, we mere mortals carry inadequate God images in our imaginations, as J. B. Phillips argued in Your God is Too Small.   As Ron Popeil says, “But wait, there’s more.”  Our concepts of the afterlife are too small and limited, too.  They tend to reflect earthly conditions and circumstances.  Ancient Egyptians sought an idealized Egypt in their afterlife, and the popular image of Hell as a place of fire, smoke, and noxious fumes comes from the old Jerusalem garbage dump.  These are just two examples of a much greater possible number.

Likewise, many have hypothesized that human relationships carry over into the afterlife.  Notable among these are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with their concept of marriage continuing after death.  The Sadducees labored under no such idea, for they rejected the possibility of life after death.  So their question regarding the levirate marriage of one woman to seven brothers was insincere.  This story in Mark occurs in the context of attempts to entrap Jesus in his own words.  As in the cases of the other challenges, Jesus is the superior debater.

FYI:  Levirate marriage was a practice meant to continue the family name, keep property within the family, and protect a childless widow from homelessness and other unfortunate circumstances.  It comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and features prominently in Genesis 38.  (Genesis 38 contains a theological hot potato of a story, the moral  implications of which I leave for you, O reader, to ponder.  But I must move along now.)

Had these Sadducees asked a sincere question, they would have received a constructive answer from Jesus.  In the Bible, God says to those ask sincere questions than to those who presume to know the answers or to those who make insincere queries.  (Read the book for confirmation of this assertion.)  Speaking of sincerity, let us turn to Tobit and Sarah.

Both were in very bad situations, and both wanted to die. Tobit, blind, helpless, and living in exile, had just accused his wife of stealing livestock.  It was a false charge, and he realized this fact after Anna, his wife, denied the accusation and berated him.  But Tobit had more on his mind.  He was part of a despised and politically weak population dispersed throughout an occupying power.  He had heard the taunts for a long time.  It all seemed like too much to bear.

And Sarah had been married to seven men yet was still a virgin.  She had developed a reputation as having bad luck and perhaps being a murderer.  She lived in a patriarchal society which presumed that a woman was supposed to be a wife and a mother.  And the author of the text presumed that she was property, too.  Pay attention to the language:  The Revised English Bible says that Tobias was destined to “possess” her.  Likewise, the New Revised Standard Version says “have” and the New American Bible translates the verb as “claim.”  (Aside:  Sarah was a woman, not a piece of furniture.  But I cannot make the text fit early 21st Century gender concepts.)

Anyhow, the author of the Book of Tobit says that God heard the prayers of Tobit and Sarah, and sent the archangel Raphael to cure them both.  Raphael means “God heals.”  Much of the rest of the book is the account of how this healing took place.  Without giving away too many details, I can say that people were part of the process.

As I typed the reading from Tobit, the prayers for death struck a chord with me.  I have been in difficult situations in which I have prayed for death.   When death did not come, I cursed the mornings on which I awoke.  And God did cure me via direct action as well as by people.  Perhaps you, O reader, have been in a similar situation or know someone who has.  In my case, it did get better.

I wonder what the spiritual lives of the Sadducees could have been if they had been interested in sincerity, not in insincerity.  When one plays semantic and mind games with God, God wins.  And God wants sincerity and humility from us.  If we argue with God, fine; let us argue sincerely.  (Read the Book of Job.)  If we pray for death during difficult times, God hears us.  And I am convinced that the most merciful answer at that time is “No.”  That was the answer God gave me, and that was the answer in the narrative of the Book of Tobit.  In the cases of Tobit and Sarah, God had something wonderful in mind, and this involved them being alive.

As St. Patrick wrote:

Christ be with me,

Christ within me,

Christ behind me,

Christ before me,

Christ beside me,

Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ in quiet,

Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET OF SCOTLAND, QUEEN

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIUSEPPE, PHYSICIAN

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/week-of-proper-4-wednesday-year-1/

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What Belongs to Caesar and What Belongs to God   1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

But she assured me:

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and who have great delight in his commandments!

Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see their desire upon their enemies.

They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

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

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

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

He saw through their duplicity, and said,

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

They brought one, and he asked them,

Whose head is this, and whose inscription?

They replied,

Caesar’s.

Then Jesus said,

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

His reply left them completely taken aback.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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

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

This was a dicey political situation for Jesus.  If he said,

No, this is unjust taxation,

he would be in trouble with the Romans.  And many soldiers were in town during the days leading up to the Passover, the annual commemoration of God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.  Some of them could arrest Jesus at a moment’s notice.  But if he said,

Yes, Tiberius is our emperor, and he deserves our respect, too,

Jesus would lose much public support.   Our Lord and Savior, being perceptive and intelligent, delivered a faultless answer:  The coin belongs to Tiberius; pay it.  But give to God what is due to God.  And what is due to God?  We owe God the pattern of our daily living.

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

For none of us has life in himself,

and none becomes his own master when he dies.

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

and if we die, we die in the Lord.

So, then, whether we live or die,

we are the Lord’s possession.

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

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 9, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN CHEMNITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF BARTON STONE, COFOUNDER OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST)

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/week-of-proper-4-tuesday-year-1/

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Posted January 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Mark 12, Psalm 112, Tobit

Tagged with

Holiness, Actual and Imagined   1 comment

Above:  The Wicked Husbandmen, by Jan Luyken

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

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

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

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

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

Father!

I replied,

Yes, my son.

He answered,

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

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

Your festivals shall be turned into mourning,

and all your songs into lamentation,

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

Is he no longer afraid?

they said.

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

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

Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

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

He went on to speak to them in parables:

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

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

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

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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

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

Now, for the other side…..

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 8, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN VON STAUPITZ, MARTIN LUTHER’S SPIRITUAL MENTOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES THEODORE HOLLY, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF HAITI

THE FEAST OF JOHN MILTON, POET AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF THE SAINTS AND MARTYRS OF THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/week-of-proper-4-monday-year-1/

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Posted January 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Mark 12, Psalm 112, Tobit

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