Archive for the ‘Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 11-37’ Category

False Significance and True Significance   Leave a comment

THE QUEST FOR FALSE SIGNIFICANCE IS A FORM OF IDOLATRY.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, “Master, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and take you in; or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison, and come to see you?”  “In solemn truth I tell you,” the King will answer them, “that inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you had done it unto me.”

–Matthew 25:37-40, Helen Barrett Montgomery, the Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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And lo, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

–Luke 13:30, Helen Barrett Montgomery, the Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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The ethics and morals of Jesus of Nazareth shape my ethics and morals.  I am a professing Christian, after all.  

The increase in political extremism defined by hatred, xenophobia, nativism, and conspiracy theories concerns me deeply.  This is a global problem.  As one hears in this video clip, the “quest for significance” is one of the “pillars of radicalization.”  

We are dealing with idolatry.  Sin, in Augustinian terms, is disordered love.  God deserves the most love.  Many people, activities, ideas, et cetera, deserve lesser amounts of love.  Others deserve no love.  To love that which one should not love or to love someone or something more than one ought to do is to deny some love to God.  One bears the image of God.  One is, therefore, worthy of much love.  In fact, Judaism and Christianity teach that one has a moral obligation to love others as one loves oneself, assuming that one loves oneself as one should (Leviticus 19:18; Tobit 4:15; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 31:15; Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).  After all, the other human beings also bear the image of God.  Judaism and Christianity also teach people to love God fully, and link love of God and love of other people (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 22:36-40).  Therefore, true significance comes from loving God fully and loving God, as God is present in human beings, especially the “least of these.”

Two stories from 1 Maccabees pertain to my theme.  

In 1 Maccabees 5:55-64, two Hasmonean military commanders named Zechariah and Azariah sought to make a name for themselves.  They succeeded; they caused military defeat and won ignominy to define their names.  However, in 1 Maccabees 6:42-47, Eleazar Avaran acted selflessly, in defense of his oppressed people and the Law of Moses.  He died and won an honored name from his people.  Those who sought honor earned disgrace.  He who sacrificed himself gained honor.

I could quote or mention a plethora of Biblical verses and passages about the folly of seeking false significance.  The Bible has so many of them because of the constancy of human nature.  I could quote or mention more verses and passages, but to do so would be triply redundant.

Simply, true human significance comes from God, compared to whom we are all insignificant.  That significance comes from bearing the image of God.  The sooner more of us accept that truth, the better off the rest of us will be.  The social, societal, economic, and political costs of the quest for false significance to extremely high.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Tobit’s Instructions to Tobias   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART V

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Tobit 4:1-20

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Samuel L. Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, explained that the difference between reality and fiction is that people expect fiction to make sense.  Often, as cliché tells us, reality is stranger than fiction.  After all, solar-powered submarines exist.

The Book of Tobit is a work of fiction, of course.  Yet its main human characters are realistic.  I can believe that, in real life, one may suddenly remember, after years of dependency, that a vast sum of money far away exists.  Human memory works in odd ways much of the time.

Tobit’s instructions to his son, Tobias, reflect piety.  We read again of the importance of proper burial and of giving alms to the poor.  Other morals pertain to honoring parents, keeping divine commandments, avoiding fornication, choosing a Jewish wife, paying workers promptly, keeping the Golden Rule, not getting drunk, and praising and trusting God.

The importance of alms in the Book of Tobit is about more than helping the poor.  Jews living in exile and the diaspora lacked the option of offering sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Almsgiving substituted for offering sacrifices.

A brief survey of almsgiving in the Bible follows:

  1. One should give alms willingly.  (Deuteronomy 16:17; Tobit 4:8, 16; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 18:15-18)
  2. One should give alms in proportion to one’s income.  (Deuteronomy 15:14; Deuteronomy 16:17; Tobit 4:8, 16; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 35:9-10)
  3. One should restrict alms to within one’s community.  (Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:14; Tobit 4:17; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 12:1-7)
  4. Almsgiving saves the giver from sins.  (Tobit 12:9-10; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 3:30-31)
  5. Almsgiving is a worthy offering before God.  (Tobit 4:11; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 34:18-35:4)
  6. Almsgiving saves the giver from premature death and destruction.  (Tobit 4:10; Tobit 12:9; Tobit 14:10; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 29:10-13; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 40:17, 24)

The Bible places a priority on works as an expression of faith.  May we leave Reformation theology of faith and works out of this, for the time being, at least.  May we admit that Second Temple-era Jews were not Lutherans.  And may we remember Matthew 25:40:

And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

In other words, such works matter to God.  We cannot love God, whom we cannot see, if we do not love people, whom we can see.

The principle is clear.  The execution is not always obvious, however.  It depends on circumstances, such as who one is, where one is, and when one is.  For example, should one give money to a panhandler standing on a street corner?  Or should one instead give those funds to organizations that help the poor and homeless?  I favor a local charity that helps battered women.  In my community, churches pool their funds to help the poor into a central distribution point.  Wisdom in almsgiving is essential.  May we–collectively and individually–be wise in this way more often than we are foolish.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST DAY OF ADVENT:  THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK COOK ATKINSON, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JENNETTE THRELFALL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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The Reigns of Kings Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah of Israel   5 comments

Above:  King Menahem of Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART XCVII

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2 Kings 15:14-31

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If you pursue justice, you will attain it

and wear it as a glorious robe.

Birds flock with their kind;

so truth returns to those who practice it.

A lion lies in wait for the workers of iniquity.

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 27:8-10, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (Reigned 785-733 B.C.E.)

King Jotham of Judah (Reigned 759-743 B.C.E.)

King Menahem of Israel (Reigned 747-737 B.C.E.)

King Pekahiah of Israel (Reigned 737-735 B.C.E.)

King Pekah of Israel (Reigned 735-732 B.C.E.)

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As I read the brief accounts in 2 Kings 14-21, I cannot help but replay the Book of Amos in my head.  I also note the fall of the fifth dynasty in the northern Kingdom of Israel.  Furthermore, I notice the kingdom’s diminished status, relative to its neighbors, especially the rising Neo-Assyrian Empire, which devoured the Kingdom of Aram in 732 B.C.E.  And I wonder why any sane man would seek to become the King of Israel.

The Kingdom of Israel was in its death spiral.  Two men fighting who would be the King of Israel was like to quote a line from a different context,  

like two bald men fighting over a comb.

But fight they did.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GREGOR, FATHER OF MORAVIAN CHURCH MUSIC

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI GABRIELI AND HANS LEO HASSLER, COMPOSERS AND ORGANISTS; AND CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI AND HEINRICH SCHÜTZ, COMPOSERS AND MUSICIANS

THE FEAST OF HALFORD E. LUCCOCK, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDELEINE OF JESUS, FOUNDRESS OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF JESUS

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The Reigns of King Jehoram/Joram and Ahaziah/Jehoahaz of Judah   2 comments

Above:  King Jehoram/Joram of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXXVIII

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2 Kings 8:16-29

2 Chronicles 21:1-22:9

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Whoever throws a stone straight up throws it on his own head;

and a treacherous blow opens up wounds.

He who digs a pit will fall into it,

and he who sets a snare will be caught in it.

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 27:25-27, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Jehoram/Joram of Israel (Reigned 851-842 B.C.E.)

King Jehoram/Joram of Judah (Reigned 851-843 B.C.E.)

King Ahaziah/Jehoahaz of Judah (Reigned 843-842 B.C.E.)

King Hazael of Aram (Reigned 842-806 B.C.E.)

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Above:  The Intermarriage of the House of Omri and the House of David

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

The critiques of King Jehoram/Joram of Judah are negative.  The longer coverage in 2 Chronicles 21 is more devastating than 2 Kings 8:16-24.  The account in 2 Chronicles 21 even mentions a condemnation by Elijah.  Questions of historicity of the prophet’s message aside, a message from Elijah fits the chronology of 2 Kings.  If one pays close attention, one may notice that King Jehoram/Joram of Judah was already on the throne in 2 Kings 1:17, and that the account of the assumption of Elijah is in 2 Kings 2.

King Ahaziah of Judah, son and immediate successor of King Jehoram/Joram of Judah, also received a negative review.  King Ahaziah of Judah allied himself militarily with his uncle, King Jehroam/Joram of Israel.  They had a common foe, King Hazael of Aram.

Both King Jehoram/Joram of Israel and King Jehoram/Joram of Judah died badly.  The King of Judah suffered from an incurable disease of the bowels and died unloved.  The King of Israel perished in a revolution, to Jehu.

King Ahaziah of Judah also fell victim to Jehu’s revolution.

The insidious influence of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel in the Kingdom of Judah was not burned out, unfortunately.  The Queen Mother, Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, was still alive.  And she wanted to wield power.

The reign of Queen Athaliah will be the topic of my next post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 31, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE REFORMATION

THE FEAST OF DANIEL C. ROBERTS, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GERHARD VON RAD AND MARTIN NOTH, GERMAN LUTHERAN BIBLICAL SCHOLARS

THE FEAST OF AUL SHINJI SASAKI, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MID-JAPAN, BISHOP OF TOKYO, AND PRIMATE OF NIPPON SEI KO KEI; AND PHILIP LENDEL TSEN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF HONAN AND PRESIDING BISHOP OF CHUNG HUA SHENG KUNG HUI

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Elisha, the Shunammite Woman, and Revolution in Aram   Leave a comment

Above:  King Hazael of Aram

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXXVII

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2 Kings 8:1-15

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If you do a kindness, know to whom you do it,

and you will be thanked for your good deeds.

Do good to a godly man, and you will be repaid–

if not by him, certainly by the Most High.

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 12:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Ben-Hadad I of Aram (Reigned 880-842 B.C.E.)

King Hazael of Aram (Reigned 842-806 B.C.E.)

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2 Kings 8:1-6 is a sequel to 2 Kings 4:8-37.  The juxtaposition of the two stories in 2 Kings 8:1-15 reveals (not uniquely–see 2 Kings 6:1-23, too) Elisha’s concern for individuals and geopolitics alike.

Back in 1 Kings 19:15, God had commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael as King of Aram.  Elisha fulfilled that order in 2 Kings 8:7-15.  God’s choice grieved Elisha, properly.  King Hazael came to the throne via murder and went on to oppress Israel from 2 Kings 9 to 2 Kings 13.

The second story invites us to ponder uncomfortable questions about divine purposes.  In following that lead, I seek to strike a balance.  On one hand, I want to acknowledge that God refuses to fit into human theological boxes and categories.  Any God concept that does fit into them is merely an idol and an example of creating God in one’s own image.  On the other hand, I strike to be careful not to depict God as a callous figure.  Whenever I hear many people’s statements that a terrible event must have been the will of God, I cringe at the God of their faith.  No wonder many people reject belief in God!  If I thought that God was like that, I would seek solace in atheism, too.

Theological balance is essential.  I strive for it without knowing where it is sometimes.  Fortunately, I need not rely on my own powers in these matters; grace abounds.  Besides, I doubt that one must pass a canonical examination to receive salvation.  Faith and false certainty are opposites.  Faith leaves much room for many unanswered questions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HUGH O’FLAHERTY, “SCARLET PIMPERNEL OF THE VATICAN”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARCELLUS THE CENTURION AND CASSIAN OF TANGIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 298

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLEKSA ZARYTSKY, UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1963

THE FEAST OF WALTER JOHN MATHAMS, BRITISH BAPTIST THEN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, AUTHOR, AND HYMN WRITER

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King Ahab’s War Against the Arameans   Leave a comment

Above: Map of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXV

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1 Kings 20:1-43

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God is the opposite of evil,

and life is the opposite of death;

so the sinner is the opposite of the godly.

–Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 33:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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King Ahab of Israel (Reigned 873-852 B.C.E.)

King Ben-Hadad I of Aram (Reigned 880-842 B.C.E.)

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Ben-Hadad I was the King of Aram from prior to 1 Kings 15:18 through 2 Kings 8:15.  His realm (roughly modern Syria) sat between Israel and Assyria.  Aram also contained precious trade routes.  In the name of protecting these commercial caravan routes, Ben-Hadad I attacked Israel sometimes.  Ben-Hadad I’s campaign in 1 Kings 20:1-22 was an attempt to force King Ahab of Israel to join an alliance against Assyria, forces of which attacked Aram annually.  Ahab also had closed Aramean bazaars (in Samaria since the days of King Omri of Israel, Ahab’s father).

Ben-Hadad I, not dissuaded by defeat at Samaria the first time, attacked again months later.  He lot again.  The text made clear that that God, not Ahab, therefore, had no right to spare the life of Ben-Hadad I, which he did.

A recurring theme repeats in 1 Kings 10:  Disobedience to God’s instructions leads to death.  This death may not occur immediately, but it will happen.

One acculturated to Reformation theology may consider this teaching too close to the works side of the faith-works debate.  We need to acknowledge an irrefutable historical fact:  Hebrews of the 800s B.C.E. were not Protestants.  Also, works matter, not that I object to King Ahab sparing the life of King Ben-Hadad I.

As Amy-Jill Levine says of the Hebrew Bible, people did things differently then.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES A. WALSH AND THOMAS PRICE, COFOUNDERS OF THE MARYKNOLL FATHERS AND BROTHERS; AND MARY JOSEPHINE ROGERS, FOUNDRESS OF THE MARYKNOLL SISTERS OF SAINT DOMINIC

THE FEAST OF DMITRY BORTNIANSKY, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF HARRY WEBB FARRINGTON, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Did I Say Anything?   Leave a comment

You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your race, but will love you neighbour as yourself.  I am Yahweh.

–Leviticus 19:18, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Do to no one what you would not want done to you.

–Tobit 4:15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Judge your fellow-guest’s needs by your own,

be thoughtful in every way.

–Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 31:15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets.

–Matthew 7:12, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Treat others as you would like people to treat you.

–Luke 6:31, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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After all, brothers, you were called to be free; do not abuse your freedom as an opening for self-indulgence, but be servants to one another in love, since the whole of the Law is summarised in the one commandment: You must love your neighbour as yourself.  If you go on snapping at one another and tearing one another to pieces, you will be eaten up by one another.

–Galatians 5:13-15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Once upon a time I cared deeply about having and winning arguments, whether they were by electronic or personal means.  I sought to have the last word and to convince the other person or people of the superiority of my logic, intellect, and morality.  I was, of course, obnoxious, arrogant, and presumptuous, among other adjectives.

Now I seldom argue with anyone.  Silence implies not consent but the fact that I consider an argument to be unnecessary and possibly unwise, or at least not productive.  Really, will two or more people shouting at each other change the minds of anyone participating in the shouting match?  This scenario is far removed from an intellectual discourse.  Furthermore, I do not enjoy having to endure someone shouting at me and possibly insulting my intelligence and/or morality, so I choose to obey the Golden Rule by not doing unto the other person as he or she is doing unto me.

Usually such an unpleasant event starts without me saying anything.  On the rare occasion that I something I say triggers the shouted monologue, I have not sought to offend anyone.  Only once (as far as I recall) has my question,

Did I say anything?,

halted the monologue.  Anyhow, I, heeding the advice in Galatians 5, refuse to shout in return most of the time.  I am a flawed human being, after all, so my track record is imperfect.  I do, however, know what I ought to do and seek to act accordingly.  My purpose is not to be right; it is to be correct.  My purpose is not to be right; it is to avoid being arrogant, presumptuous, and obnoxious, among other adjectives.

That is a worthy goal, one for which I depend on grace for any degree of success.  The ability to control one’s temper–to refrain from striking out physically and/or verbally, and to avoid doing anything else one will have cause to regret later–is a learned skill.  I recognize that I have an obligation to exercise my responsibility with regard to how I act in these situations.  I choose not to pour gasoline on a proverbial fire.  Nevertheless, I know that not responding in kind frequently angers the other person and makes the situation worse in the short term.  If I were to argue in return, however, that course of action would have the same result in the short term and make matters worse in the medium term, at least.  And, if I were to pretend to agree with a proposition I oppose, I would be a liar.  C’est la vie.  Sometimes the fire must burn out on its own.

The tongue, James 3:6 reminds us, is a flame.  One can extend that teaching to pens, pencils, Twitter posts, Facebook memes, remarks in the comments sections of websites, et cetera.  Much of the time remaining silent, not sharing a meme, or not posting a comment is the better course of action.  Not giving into one’s anger and acting badly is preferable to ignoring the Golden Rule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-SIXTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK AND WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOPS OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CHAEREMON AND ISCHYRION, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF HENRY BUDD, FIRST ANGLICAN NATIVE PRIEST IN NORTH AMERICA; MISSIONARY TO THE CREE NATION

THE FEAST OF JAMES PRINCE LEE, BISHOP OF MANCHESTER

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Grace, Human and Divine   1 comment

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Above:  Design Drawing for a Stained -Glass Window with the Publican

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/LAMB2006000957/)

Designed by J. & R. Lamb Studios between 1857 and 1999

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The Assigned Readings:

Joel 2:23-32 and Psalm 65

or 

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 and Psalm 84

then 

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Luke 18:9-14

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 25, Year A:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/proper-25-year-a/

Prayer 25, Year B:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/proper-25-year-b/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-twenty-third-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-confession-for-the-twenty-third-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-twenty-third-sunday-after-pentecost/

Joel 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/devotion-for-january-23-lcms-daily-lectionary/

2 Timothy 4:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/week-of-proper-4-saturday-year-2/

Luke 18:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twenty-second-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/devotion-for-the-forty-second-day-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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The biblical texts contain many repeated themes.  Among them is the command to obey God’s laws coupled with warnings of the consequences for not doing so followed by those consequences.  The Prophet Jeremiah, aware of those sins and their consequences, asked God for mercy on the people in Chapter 14.  In Jeremiah 15, however, God paid “no” in many words.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 35, which speaks of the divine preference for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the wronged, begins with:

To keep the law is worth many offerings;….—35:1, The Revised English Bible

Much of the Old Testament tradition agrees with that statement.  So does the Pharisee from the parable in Luke 18:9-14.  He has kept the Law of Moses as best he knows how, as his tradition has told him to do.  But he misses one thing, another element of the Old Testament tradition:  humility before God.

You desire no sacrifice, or I would give it:

But you take no delight in burnt offerings.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit:

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

–Psalm 54:16-17, New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

St. Paul the Apostle understood all this well.  What admirers wrote in his name after he died the Apostle could have said during his lifetime:

I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith;….—2 Timothy 4:7, The New Jerusalem Bible

The crown of righteousness is a matter of grace; we do not earn it.  Yes, James 2:24 (The Revised English Bible) tells us:

You seen then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified.

But faith, in that formulation, is intellectual, so words are necessary for justification to God.  In the Pauline tradition, however, faith is inherently active, so:

For all alike have sinned, and are justified by God’s free grace alone, through his act of liberation in the person of Christ Jesus.

–Romans 3:23-24, The Revised English Bible

Therefore:

What room then is left for human pride?  It is excluded.  And on what principle?  The keeping of the law would not exclude it, but faith does.  For our argument is that people are justified by faith quite apart from any question of keeping the law.

–Romans 3:27-28, The Revised English Bible

According to St. Paul, the Law of Moses did its job until Christ did his, so Jesus has fulfilled the Law.

Even in judgment there can be hope, hence the lection from Joel.  The judgment which Jeremiah hoped would not come did arrive.  Later, however, so did mercy in extravagant doses.  Grace indeed!

Grace is also something we are supposed to extend to each other.

In January 2013 Jim McGown, a friend (now deceased), gave me a good book, the last of a sequence of fine volumes he imparted to me.  The last book is a daily devotional guide for Lent, Year C, by Bishop N. T. Wright.  The following lines come from Wright’s discussion of the parable from Luke:

Wasn’t the poor chap [the Pharisee] simply doing what God had told him to do?

Well, from one point of view, yes.  But Jesus was constantly nudging people, or positively shoving them, towards seeing everything differently.  Prayer is about loving God, and the deepest Jewish traditions insist that loving God is something you do with your hart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbour as yourself, not calculating whether you’ve done everything just right and feeling smug because your neighbour hasn’t managed it so well.

Lent for Everyone:  Luke, Year C—A Daily Devotional (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2012, pages 77-78; published originally in the United Kingdom in 2009 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge)

So I extend to you, O reader, a small portion of grace which a friend, at God’s prompting, gave to me.  Each of us is called to respond positively to God, who has done much for us.  Part of this sacred vocation is extending grace to our fellow human beings.  We have an excellent role model:  Jesus of Nazareth.  May we follow him.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 8, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT II, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF DAME JULIAN OF NORWICH, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDALENA OF CANOSSA, FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY AND THE SONS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER OF TARENTAISE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/proper-25-year-c/

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Conversations, Trees, and Fruits   1 comment

Above:  A Fire Extinguisher

Image Source = KRoock74

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FIRST READING:  OPTION #1

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 27:4-7 (New Revised Standard Version):

When a sieve is shaken, the refuse appears;

so do a person’s faults when he speaks.

The kiln tests the potter’s vessels;

so the test of a person is in his conversation.

Its fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree;

so a person’s speech discloses the cultivation of his mind.

Do not praise anyone before he speaks,

for this is the way people are tested.

FIRST READING:  OPTION #2

Isaiah 55:10-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

RESPONSE

Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  It is a good thing to give thanks to the LORD,

and to sing praises to your Name, O Most High;

2  To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning

and of your faithfulness in the night season;

3  On the psaltery, and on the lyre

and to the melody of the harp.

4  For you have made me glad by your acts, O LORD;

and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.

11  The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,

and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.

12  Those who are planted in the house of the LORD

shall flourish in the courts of our God.

13  They shall still bear fruit in old age;

they shall be green and succulent;

14  That they may show how upright the LORD is,

my Rock, in whom there is no fault.

SECOND READING

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (New Revised Standard Version):

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this:  flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

Death, has been swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 6:39-49 (The Jerusalem Bible):

He [Jesus] also told a parable to them,

Can one blind man guide another?  Surely both will fall into a pit?  The disciple is not superior to this teacher; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher.  Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,’ when you cannot see the plank in your own?  Hypocrite!  Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.

There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit.  For every tree can be told by its own fruit; people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles.  A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness.  For a man’s words from what fills his heart.

Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I say?

Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and acts on them–I will show you what he is like.  He is like the man who when he built his house dug, and dug deep, and laid the foundations on rock; when the river was in flood it bore down on that house  but could not shake it, it was so well built.  But the one who listens and does nothing is like the man who built his house on soil, with no foundations:  as soon as the river bore down on it, it collapsed; and what a ruin that house became!

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-eighth-sunday-after-epiphany/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/prayer-of-confession-for-the-eighth-sunday-after-epiphany/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-eighth-sunday-after-epiphany/

Isaiah 55:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/25/proper-10-year-a/

Luke 6:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/week-of-proper-18-thursday-friday-and-saturday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/week-of-proper-18-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/week-of-proper-18-saturday-year-1/

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My grandfather Taylor, whom I do not remember (He died when I was three years old) said that it was better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.  That quote came to mind as I made connections among the readings.  Both “Luke” and Jesus ben Sira apply the metaphor of a tree and its fruits to one’s spiritual life.  And the latter writes of one’s conversations as evidence of

the cultivation of his mind

and as a test.  I thought of our Lord’s later comment that what goes into a person’s mouth does not defile him or her; what comes out of his or her mouth does that.  (Read Matthew 15:10 forward.)  To defile was literally

to make one common,

a meaning the late J. B. Phillips made clear in his translations of the New Testament.  Ritual purity set one apart from the great unwashed mass of people; it was about negative identity:

I am not like them.

I want to be careful here.  Christianity, in its pure form, is not overly individualistic; it is more concerned with the community and the individual in that context.  Yet Christianity, in its pure form, does encourage a vital interior life.  If that is not what it ought to be, one’s behavior (including conversation) will reveal this face.  The spiritual fig will not fall far from the tree.

The tongue, James 3:1-2 tells us, is powerful.  The text contains the metaphor of a large forest fire in reference to the negative effects of improper speech, likened also to poison.  Imagine, therefore, O reader, modern metaphors for proper speech and conversation:  a fire extinguisher, flame retardant, an antidote, et cetera.

Such as one thinks, so one is.  The content of one’s character can change, for many people have changed.  The theological term for that is repentance.  The victory is possible via God, in particular through Jesus.  Thus hope for such victory is not in vain; rather, it is well-placed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 14, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FULBERT OF CHARTRES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDWARD THOMAS DEMBY, EPISCOPAL SUFFRAGAN BISHOP OF ARKANSAS, AND HENRY BEARD DELANY, EPISCOPAL SUFFRAGAN BISHOP OF NORTH CAROLINA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT WANDREGISILUS OF NORMANDY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT, AND SAINT LAMBERT OF LYONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/

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Jesus, Who Contradicts Many of Our Assumptions   1 comment

Above:  Christ Carrying the Cross (1580), by El Greco

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Ecclesiasticus 36:1-2, 5-6, 13-17 (Revised English Bible):

Look on us with pity, Lord God of all,

and strike fear in every nation.

Let them learn, as we ourselves have learned,

that there is not god but you, O Lord.

Renew your signs, repeat your miracles,

with glory for your mighty hand and right arm.

Show mercy to the city of your sanctuary,

to the city of Jerusalem, your dwelling-place.

Fill Zion with the praise of your triumph

and the temple with your glory.

Acknowledge those you created at the beginning

and fulfill the prophecies spoken in your name.

Reward those who look to you in trust;

prove your prophets worthy of credence.

Listen, O Lord, to the prayer of your servants,

who claim Aaron’s blessing on your people.

Let all who live on earth acknowledge

that you are the Lord, the eternal God.

Psalm 79:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Remember not our past sins;

let your compassion be swift to meet us;

for we have been brought very low.

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name;

deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

10 Why should the heathen say, “Where is their God?”

Let it be known among the heathen and in our sight

that you avenge the shedding of your servant’s blood.

11 Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,

and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.

12 May the revilings with which they reviled you, O Lord,

return seven-fold into their bosoms.

13 For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture;

we will give you thanks for ever

and show forth your praise from age to age.

Mark 10:32-45 (Revised English Bible):

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe, while those who followed behind were afraid.  Once again he took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him.

We are now going up to Jerusalem,

he said,

and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles.  He will be mocked and spat upon, and flogged and killed; and three days afterwards, he will rise again.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said,

Teacher, we should like you to do us a favour.”

He asked,

What is it you want me to do for you?

They answered,

Allow us to sit with you in your glory, one at your right hand and the other at your left.

Jesus said to them,

You do not understand what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

They answered,

We can,

Jesus said,

The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism that I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit on my right or on my left is not for me to grant; that honour is for those to whom it has already been assigned.

When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them to him and said,

You know that among the Gentiles the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and the great make their authority felt.  It shall not be so with you; among you whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

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The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The readings from Sirach and Psalms come from circumstances of national distress.  Psalm 79 comes from the aftermath of the Chaldean (Babylonian) destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.  Sirach comes from the time after the return from this exile.  The Jews were home, but they were still subject to foreign nations.  And the descendants many Gentiles who had settled in the Jewish homeland remained.  Gentiles lost their land claims.  Religious, ethnic, and cultural conflicts erupted, of course.  So it is not surprising that the full texts of Psalm 79 and Sirach 36 contain much anger toward foreigners.

These readings contain pleas for divine mercy during such difficult times.  It was certainly a feeling that many in First Century C.E. Palestine understood.  Here were Jews living in their homeland, but under Roman occupation and with many Gentiles settled among them.  National glory was something from a past nobody remembered firsthand.  And was not the Messiah supposed to expel all those foreigners?

Speaking of the Messiah, Jesus did not expel any foreigner.  No, he even found great faith among some of them.  Jesus is like that:  not what many people expect or want him to be.

When reading the Gospel of Mark, it is very important to pay close attention to how material is grouped.  For example, this day’s reading flows directly from recent readings about children, a camel passing through the eye of a needle,  and predictions of our Lord and Savior’s death and resurrection.  It seems that some Apostles have not been paying enough attention.  The author of Mark has James and John, sons of Zebedee, ask for glorious positions relative to Jesus.  Note, however, that, in the parallel reading in Matthew 20:20-28, their mother makes the request.  The two are versions of the same story, based on a close reading of them.  (Read them for yourself.)

The other Apostles are angry with James and John, probably because they were jockeying for position, too.  “How dare you two get there first?” the other seemed to ask.  At least that is my interpretation.

Anyhow, Jesus says that the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wants to be the greatest must be the lowliest servant.  And, by the way, he will suffer, die and rise again.  I have read this before in Mark.  But here we have these statements repeated.  We humans do not always listen closely enough often enough, do we?  Sometimes “our tapes are running,” so we hear but do not listen.  Jesus says something plainly, but we do not understand, so he has not communicated with us.  The fault is with us, not Jesus.

I propose that the communication breaks down at our end because Jesus contradicts many of our assumptions.  He cannot mean what the words seem to indicate, can he?  Yes, he can.  How often do we need him to repeat himself?  How dense are we?

The Kingdom of God is an inverted order relative to the traditional social arrangements.  According to Matthew 5:3-11 and Luke 6:20-26, the physically hungry will be filled.  Those who are spiritually impoverished will have spiritual abundance.  Those who mourn and weep will laugh.  The meek will inherit the earth.  The merciful will not get run over and taken advantage of; they will receive mercy.  The peacemakers will not be marginalized in a militaristic and angry society; they will be called sons and daughters of God.  The persecuted will triumph in God.  Those reviled for the sake of righteousness will rejoice.  The rich have received their consolation, the well-fed will be hungry, and those laughing now will mourn and weep.  And being well-regarded in polite society does not indicate favor with God.

And, as we have read today, the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wishes to be the greatest must be the servant of all.  I know that this is repetitive, but so was Jesus.  Some statements bear repeating.

So, after almost 2,000 years of repetition, why have we not understood yet?  Why are so many of us who claim to follow Jesus so dense?  We are invested in and acculturated to the dominant social arrangements.  It is not that the Kingdom of God is upside-down; we are.

Lord, have mercy.

We need to be right side-up.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 5, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHRISTIAN FREDERICK HEYER, BARTHOLOMEW ZIEGENBALG, AND LUDWIG NOMMENSEN, LUTHERAN PASTORS

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/week-of-8-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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