Repentance and Restoration, Part IV   2 comments

Above:  Onesimus

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray,

and art wont to give more than wither we desire or deserve:

pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy;

forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid,

and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask,

but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 125-126

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Hosea 14:1-9

Philemon 4-20

Luke 18:9-14

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Repentance–national in Hosea 14, individual in Luke 18 and Philemon–is the essence of these readings.

The Letter to Philemon has long been a misunderstood text.  Since antiquity many have cited it to justify reuniting runaway slaves with their masters–obviously a misinterpretation, given verse 16.  Onesimus may even not have been a slave, for the correct translation of verse 16 is

…as if a slave,

not the usual

…as a slave.

And Onesimus may not have been a thief either, according to a close reading of the text.

According to tradition, by the way, Philemon heeded the letter’s advice; he freed Onesimus.  Both men became bishops and martyrs, furthermore.

Tax farming was an inherently exploitative system.  Not only did the collected taxes support the Roman occupiers, but tax collectors were not salaried bureaucrats.  No, they lived off what they collected in excess of Roman taxes.  They were literal tax thieves.  The tax collector in the parable knew what he was.  He was honest before God as he pleaded for mercy.  The Pharisee in the parable was proud, though.

As Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., the retired Episcopal Bishop of Georgia, said, the Pharisees were the good churchgoing people of their day.

If we churchy people are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we have more in common with the Pharisee than the tax collector of the parable.  We make our handiwork–spiritual, more than physical, probably–our idol.  Perhaps we imagine ourselves as being better than we are.

What would a sequel to the parable have been?  Would the tax collector have found a new profession?  Would the Pharisee have continued to be insufferably smug and self-righteous?

Repentance is active. Grace, although free, is far from cheap.  Perhaps it requires one to become a bishop and martyr, or to change one’s career.  Certainly it requires one to be humble before God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE ELEVENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT JANE FRANCES DE CHANTAL, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE VISITATION

THE FEAST OF ALICIA DOMON AND HER COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS IN ARGENTINA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS BARTHOLOMEW BUONPEDONI AND VIVALDUS, MINISTERS AMONG LEPERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUDWIK BARTOSIK, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

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2 responses to “Repentance and Restoration, Part IV

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  1. Yes, Lord…have mercy on me a sinner!

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