Taking Difficult Passages of Scripture Seriously   1 comment

tamar-and-judah

Above:  Tamar and Judah, by Aert de Gelder

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 38:1-30 or Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

Psalm 10

Matthew 22:23-33 or Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:39-40

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

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I recall that, in 1996, my father began his tenure as pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley, in Appling County, Georgia.  Shortly after this I began to attend to services at St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church in town, for I had been an Episcopalian for a few years.  Nevertheless, I was never a stranger at Asbury Church during my father’s tenure there.

One of the adult Sunday School classes at Asbury was discussing the Book of Genesis at the pace of a chapter a week.  On one Sunday morning in the summer of 1996 the leader of the group, having covered Chapter 37 the previous week, skipped over Chapter 38 to Chapter 39, with little explanation.  The story of Judah, Tamar, levirate marriage (the background of the question in the readings from the Gospels), and temple prostitution was a really hot potato, so to speak.  The narrative in Genesis 38 does not criticize a young, childless widow for having sexual relations with her father-in-law at a pagan temple and becoming pregnant with twins.  In her situation she did what she needed to do to secure her future.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 commands the practice of levirate marriage, for the benefit of a childless widow in a patriarchal society without a government-defined social safety net.  In the case of Genesis 38 the practice, applied to a particular set of circumstances, makes many modern readers of the Bible squirm in their theological seats.  This is no excuse for ignoring the chapter, of course.  Whenever a portion of scripture makes one uncomfortable, one should study it more closely and, in the highest meaning of the word, critically.

The Sadducees in the parallel readings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not ignore levirate marriage, but they did employ it in a question meant to entrap Jesus.  They did not affirm the resurrection of the dead.  That is why, according to a song for children,

they were sad, you see.

For the Sadducees the emphasis on this life helped to justify the accumulation of wealth in a society in which economic injustice was ubiquitous.  They, like others, failed to ensnare Jesus verbally.  He was that capable.

Koheleth, writing in Ecclesiastes, noted that economic injustice and other forms of social injustice ought not to surprise anyone.  After all, he mentioned, perpetrators of injustice protect each other.  Nevertheless, as the author of Psalm 10 understood, those who exploited the poor (in violation of the Law of Moses) could not escape divine justice.

Just as the painful letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthian congregation led to the changing of hearts there, the study of difficult passages of scripture can lead people to learn more about the Bible, ask vital questions, think more critically about scripture, and grow spiritually.  It can also change hearts and minds for the better.  May we who call ourselves followers of God neither ignore nor use such passages flippantly, but take them seriously instead.  Then may we act accordingly.  We might even learn that we are committing or condoning social injustice, perhaps that of the economic variety.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 11, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP THE EVANGELIST, DEACON

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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One response to “Taking Difficult Passages of Scripture Seriously

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  1. Pingback: Devotion for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year D) | LENTEN AND EASTER DEVOTIONS

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