A New Birth of Justice   Leave a comment

Above:  The Virgin in Prayer, by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty and everlasting God, you are brightness of faithful souls and the desire of all nations.

So fill the world with your glory and show yourself by the radiance of your light

that all the peoples of the earth may be subject to you;  through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965)

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Isaiah 7:10-14

Psalm 31

Titus 2:11-3:7

Matthew 1:18-25

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The Gospel of Matthew appropriates and reinterprets a story from Isaiah 7.  The assigned reading from that story is too short; it should be 7:1-17, at least.

Ahaz (reigned 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) was the King of Judah.  He was one of the many monarchs who received a negative review in the Bible.  Jerusalem, Ahaz’s capital city, was under threat from allied forces of Israel (the northern kingdom) and Aram (Syria).  God, via the prophet Isaiah, sent a reassuring message to Ahaz; the effort of the two allied kings,

those two smoking stubs of firebrands

–Isaiah 7:4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

would fail.  Ahaz, when prompted to ask for a sign of divine deliverance, pretended to be pious and refused to request a sigh.  He received one anyway.  A young woman (literally, a maiden) would give birth to a son.  The sign of divine deliverance from imminent destruction was new, vulnerable life.

One might be like the author of Psalm 31 and seek refuge in God when under threat.  Alternatively, one might be like Ahaz and not seek it yet receive it anyway.

The reading from Titus is disturbing.  The author, writing in the name of St. Paul the Apostle, writes a leader of the church on the island of Crete.  The assigned portion of this epistle follows directly from verses that indicate that slaves must be thoroughly under the control of their masters and never talk back to them or steal from them.  The purpose of slaves behaving “properly” will be

to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every way.

–Verse 10b, The New American Bible

The pericope indicates a concern for orderliness and obedience to authority, as opposed to lawlessness.  We read that we used to be slaves to a range of pleasures of desires.  Being that kind of slave is negative in Titus, but being a literal slave is permissible.  Huh?  Actually, legalized slavery and other forms of institutionalized injustice are worse than lawlessness, for opposition to such injustice is a virtue.

The Letter to Titus indicates the degree to which certain elements of early Christianity accommodated themselves to societal and legal norms of the Roman Empire.  I do not advise reflexive contrariness regarding societal and legal norms, but I do state unequivocably that we who claim to follow God–in Christ, in particular–have a moral duty to march to the beat of a different drummer.  Whenever law and society are correct, that is wonderful.  But whenever law and society are wrong, we have an obligation to say so and to act accordingly.  After all, as Titus 2:12 tells us, we should live justly, devoutly, and temperately.  And, to delve into an earlier portion of Titus 2, sound teaching is vital.

Slavery is contrary to sound teaching.  Here I stand; I will not do otherwise.  This is one point on which I differ from the author of the epistle.  Another is the affirmation of the slur against Cretans in 1:12-13.

As we await the celebration of the birth of Jesus–certainly new, vulnerable life, may we recommit ourselves in his name–the name of one executed unjustly and legally by the Roman Empire–to a new birth of justice for all in the world.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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