The Primacy of Morality Over Sacrifices   1 comment

Above:  The Good Samaritan, by Rembrandt van Rijn

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Micah 6:1-9a (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Hear what the LORD is saying:

Come, present [My] case before the mountains,

And let the hills hear you pleading.

Hear, you mountains, the case of the LORD–

You firm foundations of the earth!

For the LORD has a case against His people,

He has a suit against Israel.

My people!

What wrong have I done you?

What hardship have I caused you?

Testify against Me.

In fact,

I brought you up from the land of Egypt,

I redeemed you from the house of bondage,

And I sent before you

Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

My people,

Remember what Balak king of Moab

Plotted against you,

And how Balaam son of Beor

Responded to him.

[Recall your passage]

From Shittim to Gilgal–

And you will recognize

The gracious acts of the LORD.

With what shall I approach the LORD,

Do homage to God on high?

Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings,

With calves a year old?

Would the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

With myriads of streams of oil?

Shall I give my first-born for my transgression,

The fruit of my body for my sins?

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

And what the LORD requires of you:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And to walk modestly with your God;

Then will your name achieve wisdom.

Psalm 14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;

there is none who does any good.

2  The LORD looks down from heaven upon us al,

to see if there is any who is wise,

if there is one who seeks after God.

3  Every one has proved faithless;

all alike have turned bad;

there is none who does good; no, not one.

4  Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers

who eat up my people like bread

and do not call upon the LORD?

5  See how they tremble with fear,

because God is in the company of the righteous.

6  Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted,

but the LORD is their refuge.

7  Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion!

When the LORD restored the fortunes of his people,

Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.

Matthew 12:38-42 (An American Translation):

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees addressed him [Jesus], saying,

Master, we would like to have you show us some sign.

But he answered,

Only a wicked and faithless age insists upon a sign, and no sign will be given it but the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For just as Jonah was in the stomach of the whale for three days and nights, the Son of Man will be three days and nights in the heart of the earth.  Men of Nineveh will rise with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, for when Jonah preached they repented, and there is more than Jonah here!  The queen of the south will rise with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, for she came from the very ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and there is more than Solomon here!

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The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Consider this:

To do what is right and just

Is more desired by the LORD than sacrifice.

–Proverbs 21:3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

and this:

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

As much as in obedience to the LORD’s command?

Simply, obedience is better than sacrifice,

Compliance than the fat of rams.

–1 Samuel 15:22, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

I think also of something U.S. Presbyterian Shirley Guthrie wrote in his book, Christian Doctrine:

One danger of the sacrificial imagery is that the significance of Christ’s work can easily be corrupted in the same way the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was corrupted.  It easily becomes a kind of bargaining with God.  A sacrifice has been offered to satisfy his demands and appease him–so now we are free go go on being and doing anything we like without interference from him.  How did the prophets protest against such a perversion of the sacrificial system?  See Isaiah 1:10-31; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8.  Is the prophetic protest against the misuse of sacrifices relevant also to our understanding of the sacrifice of Christ?  Would the prophets allow the split we sometimes make between preaching concerned with social action and preaching concerned with salvation from sin?–Christian Doctrine:  Teachings of the Christian Church (Richmond, VA:  CLC Press, 1968, pages 247-248)

Again and again we read that, although God does not object to rituals and sacrifices, these offend God when we do not accompany them with social justice, especially in the treatment of widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people.  More than one Hebrew prophet made this point plainly.  And yet people claiming to be of God have persecuted populations, discriminated against members of groups, and condoned violence in the name of God.  It continues to this day.

These are not acts of goodness or justice.  An honor killing, for example, is neither good nor just.  Discrimination is neither good nor just.  Terrorism is certainly far from goodness and justice.  But feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned and the ill, housing the homeless, and comforting the grieving are good and just.  The measurement of how good and just we are is how much better we leave our corner of the world relative to its state when we found it.  Are the lives of those we encounter better because we were part of them?  Are the marginalized included, and the unloved loved?  This, according to prophets, is a standard of righteousness.

I am repeating myself, but that is unavoidable.  The texts continue to beat the same drum, so what am I supposed to do?  There is an old and perhaps apocryphal story about the elderly St. John the Apostle/Evangelist/Divine.  He visited a congregation.  The people gathered at the house where they met regularly.  Expectations were high; what wisdom might the Apostle impart?  When St. John did arrive, all he said was,

Love one another.

A disappointed congregant asked the ancient Greek equivalent of, “That’s it?”  The Apostle replied,

When you do that, I will tell you more.

Loving one another seems quite difficult much of the time, does it not?  This, I think, is why the book repeats itself so much on this theme.  Finally, by grace, may we learn this basic lesson and act on it.  That time cannot arrive soon enough.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANDREW KIM TAEGON, PAUL CHONG HASANG, AND THEIR COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF C. H. (CHARLES HAROLD) DODD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF NELSON WESLEY TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN U.S. LUTHERAN BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/week-of-proper-11-monday-year-2/

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One response to “The Primacy of Morality Over Sacrifices

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 11: Monday, Year 2 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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