Faithfulness and Faithlessness   1 comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  The Exorcism

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:

Deuteronomy 31:30-32:27 or Isaiah 5:8-17

Psalm 142

Matthew 17:9-20 or Mark 9:9-29 or Luke 9:18-27 (28-36) 37-45

Philippians 2:14-30

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A typically Jewish way of speaking and writing about God is to recall what God has done.  After all, God is like what God has done.  Furthermore, we are like what we have done, although we are far more than the worst deeds we have committed.  The relevant issue is the pattern of what we have done and of what we are doing.  Repentance is possible, after all, and the past is not necessarily accurate in predicting the future.

Consider with me, O reader, the assigned readings for this Sunday.  The two options for the First Reading proclaim divine judgment upon the faithless, for whom God has done much.  The faithless should know better.  Perhaps they do know better, but they are not acting as if they do.  The lection from Isaiah 5 follows the famous passage likening rebellious Israel to a well-tended vineyard that yields wild grapes.  God will judge that vineyard, we read.  Likewise, we read of faithless Israel in Deuteronomy.  If Richard Elliott Friedman is correct, lurking in the background of the text is a condemnation of polytheism.  God is, after all, insistent upon monotheism in the Hebrew Bible.  If Dr. Friedman is correct, faithlessness to YHWH entails turning to supposedly subordinate deities, members of the divine council–a concept Hebrew prophets opposed vigorously.

In contrast to those lections we read Psalm 142, the lament of a dying man whom other mortals have abandoned.  This man, contemplating the imminent unknown, turns to God alone.  One may assume safely that God is faithful to those who demonstrate fidelity.

The passage from Philippians belongs to a section of that epistle in which one finds advice regarding how to live faithfully in community.  People are to think about each other and model their lives after Jesus, whose humility and selflessness is certainly challenging to emulate.  In this context the customary verses about people with polysyllabic names take on more importance than they might otherwise; these verses model the attitudes and behaviors the preceding verses extol.  People are like what they do.

The three options for the Gospel reading are parallel versions of the same story, set immediately after the Transfiguration of Jesus.  One might fixate on the typically Hellenistic diagnosis of epilepsy as demonic possession, but to do so would be to miss the point.  In the narrative the Apostles have just learned of Christ’s true identity in all of its glory, yet they have not grasped this revelation, and were therefore ineffective.  The lesson for we who read these stories thousands of years later is to ponder whether we grasp who Jesus is and whether we are as effective as we can be in our discipleship.

Our challenge in this regard is to render proper thanksgiving to God in our lives.  We can do this only be grace, of course, but our desire to pursue this course of action is also essential.  Obstacles include laziness, fear, selfishness, cultural conditioning, the pressure to conform, and simple obliviousness.  If we are to grow into our full spiritual stature, however, we must seek to follow and honor God and to trust in divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINICA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED GLASS MAKER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/devotion-for-proper-4-year-d/

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  1. Pingback: Devotion for Proper 4 (Year D) | ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS

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