Archive for the ‘Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 11-51’ Category

Affirming the Dignity of Work in Words and Deeds, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Labor Day, by Samuel D. Ehrhart

Published in Puck Magazine, September 1, 1909

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-26406



The Book of Common Prayer (1979) contains a collect and assigned readings for Labor Day.

Interdependence is a cardinal virtue in the Law of Moses.  Interdependence is also obvious, or should be.  Somehow, especially in the global West, the idea of rugged individualism persists.  Yet, no matter how hard or well one works, one drives on roads other people built, relies on technology other people invented or maintain, and depends on many other people might guess at first thought.  Anyone who can read this post with comprehension relies on hosts of educators, for example.

As I affirm that I depend on the work of others, just as others depend on my work, I also affirm the dignity of work.  Therefore, I argue for certain propositions:

  1. Nobody should have to work in a death trap or a sweatshop;
  2. All wages should be living wages;
  3. People should work to live, not live to work;
  4. Union organizing and collective bargaining should be inviolable rights; and
  5. Access to affordable, quality health care is an inalienable right.

Nobody has a moral right to exploit anyone else.  No institution has a moral right to exploit any person.  After all, people should be more important than profits.

Furthermore, all work should benefit societies or communities.  By this standard most jobs pass the test.  We need plumbers and bus drivers, for example, but we also need actors, poets, and novelists.  In a just world teachers, librarians, police officers, and fire fighters would be some of the best paid professionals, but that is not the world in which we live, unfortunately.  It can be, however.  A society is what its members make it.  Sufficient force of public opinion, applied well, changes policies.  The major obstacle to positive social change is resignation to the current reality.

Furthermore, the best kind of work is also indistinguishable from play.  Work ought not only to provide financial support for one but also fulfill intangible needs.  Work, at its best, is something one who performs it enjoys.  Work should improve, not detract from, one’s quality of life.

Work does, of course, assume many forms, at home and out like the home.  One should never forget that a stay-at-home parent is a working parent.  One should never forget that one who leaves the labor force to become a caregiver for a relative is still working, just without wages.  One should acknowledge that those who, for various reasons, cannot join the labor force, are valuable members of society, and that many of them can contribute greatly to society, if others will permit them to do so.  Whenever a society holds back any of its members, it prevents itself from achieving its potential.

May we remember also that, as valuable as work is, rest and leisure are vital also.  Ideally one will balance the three properly.  We know that the brain requires a certain amount of sleep–especially REM sleep–to function properly.  We know that the correct amount of rest is necessary for the body to function properly.  We know that leisure makes for better employees.

Work, at its best, is a gift from God.  It is a gift for divine glory and the meeting of human needs.  Work, at its best, builds up (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) individuals, families, communities, societies, nation-states, and the world.  One’s work, at its best, is a vocation from God; it occupies the intersection of one’s greatest joys and the world’s deepest needs.

May you, O reader, find your work fulfilling in every way.





Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another

that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:

So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good;

and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor,

make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers,

and arouse our concern for those who are out of work;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

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

Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 38:27-32

Psalm 107:1-9 or 90:1-2, 16-17

1 Corinthians 3:10-14

Matthew 6:19-24

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 261, 932


We invoke thy grace and wisdom, O Lord, upon all men of good will

who employ and control the labor of men.

Amid the numberless irritations and anxieties of their position,

help them to keep a quite and patient temper,

and to rule firmly and wisely, without harshness and anger.

Since they hold power over the bread, the safety, and the hopes of the workers,

may they wield their power justly and with love,

as older brothers and leaders in the great fellowship of labor.

Suffer not the heavenly light of compassion for the weak and the old to be quenched in their hearts.

When they are tempted to sacrifice human health and life for profit,

do thou strengthen their will in the hour of need,

and bring to nought the counsels of the heartless.

May they not sin against thee by using the bodies and souls of men as mere tools to make things.

Raise up among us employers who shall be makers of men as well as of goods.

Give us men of faith who will look beyond the strife of the present,

and catch a vision of a nobler organization of our work,

when all shall still follow the leadership of the ablest,

no longer in fear, but by the glad will of all,

and when all shall stand side by side in a strong and righteous brotherhood of work;

according to thy will in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Evangelical and Reformed Church, Book of Worship (1947) 382-383


Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 38:24-34 or Nehemiah 2:1-18

Psalms 124 and 125 or 147

2 Timothy 2:1-15 or Matthew 7:15-27

–General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, A Book of Worship for Free Churches (1948), 409


Adapted from this post:


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)


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

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


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

be thoughtful in every way.

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


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)


Treat others as you would like people to treat you.

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


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)


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.









Proper for Artisans   1 comment


Above:  Construction of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Nondalton, Lake and Peninusla Borough, Alaska, 1990

Photographer = Jet Lowe

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = HABS AK,5-NODA,1–1


Lord Jesus Christ, master craftsman of our salvation,

we thank you for those artisans who have glorified you with their skills

and for those who continue to do so.

May we, inspired by their positive examples,

glorify you with all our skills, no matter how mundane we think they are.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 38:24-34

Psalm 86:1-13

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Matthew 13:54-58






Adapted from this post:


Proper for Those Who Serve God and Who Have Served God Most Memorably Via Their Avocations   1 comment


Above:  Quill Pen

(Image in the Public Domain)


God of grace and glory,

you have given a rich variety of interests and talents to us; thank you.

Thank you for those who have served you and helped their fellow human beings

in their daily lives habitually via their vocations yet most memorably their avocations,

and for those who do so.

May we, reminded of and encouraged in our responsibilities to you and each other by their examples,

continue faithfully in the endeavors you assign us.

In the name of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 38:24-34a

Psalm 33

Romans 14:7-8

Matthew 5:13-16







Adapted from this post:


Grace, Human and Divine   1 comment


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

Image Source = Library of Congress


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


The Assigned Readings:

Joel 2:23-32 and Psalm 65


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


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.


Some Related Posts:

Proper 25, Year A:

Prayer 25, Year B:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

Prayer of Confession:

Prayer of Dedication:

Joel 2:

2 Timothy 4:

Luke 18:


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


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.








Adapted from this post:


Conversations, Trees, and Fruits   1 comment

Above:  A Fire Extinguisher

Image Source = KRoock74



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

Prayer of Confession:

Prayer of Dedication:

Isaiah 55:

Luke 6:


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.








Adapted from this post:


Do We Want to Hear What Divine Wisdom Teaches?   1 comment

Above:  Christ as Emperor, from Ravenna, Italy


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.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 51:13-22 (Revised English Bible):

When I was still young, before I set off on my travels,

in my prayers I asked openly for wisdom.

In the forecourt of the sanctuary I laid claim to her,

and I shall seek her to the end.

From the first blossom to the ripening of the grape

she has been the delight of my heart.

From my youth my steps have followed her without swerving.

I had hardly begun to listen when I was rewarded,

and I gained for myself much instruction.

I made progress in my studies;

all glory to God who gives me wisdom!

I determined to practice what I had learnt;

I pursued goodness, and shall never regret it.

With all my might I strove for wisdom

and was scrupulous in whatever I did.

I spread out my hands to Heaven above,

deploring my shortcomings;

I set my heart on possessing wisdom,

and my keeping myself pure I found her.

With her I gained understanding from the first;

therefore I shall never be at a loss.

Because I passionately yearned to discover her,

a noble possession was mine:

as a reward the Lord gave me eloquence,

and with it I shall praise him.

Psalm 19:7-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8 The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever,

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened,

and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends?

cleanse me from my secret faults?

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;

let them not get dominion over me;

then shall I be whole and sound,

and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

Mark 11:27-33 (Revised English Bible):

They came once more to Jerusalem.  As he was walking in the temple court the chief priests, scribes, and elders came to him and said,

By what authority are you acting like this?  Who gave you authority to act in this way?

Jesus said to them,

I also have a question for you, and if you give me an answer, I will tell you by what authority I act.  The baptism of John:  was it from God, or from men?  Answer me.

This set them arguing among themselves:

What shall we say?  If we say, “From God,” he will say, “Then why did you not believe him?”  Shall we say, “From men?”

–but they were afraid of the people, for all held that John was in fact a prophet.  So they answered,

We do not know.

And Jesus said to them,

Then I will not tell you either by what authority I act.


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.


Experience confirms in my mind that using lectionaries is the best way to study the Bible.  Reading more than one section of scripture helps the process of finding links and common themes.  Sometimes one reads a group of lessons and finds no overall message, but, as in the case of these lections, a composite moral emerges.  Here it is:  Human traditions to not restrict the wisdom of God.  If we truly seek divine wisdom, we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that God will tell us we are terribly mistaken.

Let us begin with Mark 11:27-33.

The Temple at Jerusalem was the headquarters of a religious system that exploited poor people by preying on their desires to be holy.  It was also the seat of collaboration with the Roman Empire.  This is a very important point to understand.  The setting of this lection is one of the days leading up to the annual celebration of the Passover, the celebration of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  They did this each year in occupied Jerusalem, and the nerve center of activity was the Temple.  There was no separation of Temple and state, so Jesus’ activities placed him at risk of what happened to him at the end of the week:  the crucifixion.  By standing against the Temple system and collaboration with Rome, our Lord and Savior put himself in the line of fire from the imperium.

For some reason (I do not know why.), I did not understand this point until my early adulthood.

Many professional religious people derived both livelihood and social status from this Temple system.  They perceived Jesus as a threat, which he was, and reacted defensively.  If they had sought wisdom, they would have been open to learning that they were mistaken.  If they had received wisdom, they would have recognized their secret faults.  But they did none of this.  Instead, they challenged Jesus and attempted to entrap him in his own words.

Jesus was smarter than they, however.  So, when they asked him by what he authority he acted, he demonstrated his authority by turning the tables on his questioners.  Instead of playing their game, he made them play his game.  He asked them an awkward question:  By whose authority did the late John the Baptist act?  Many people regarded the forerunner as a prophet (which he was), but these professional religious people disagreed.  Recognizing their difficult situation, which the text of Mark 11:27-33 describes well, they opted for a diplomatic, know-nothing reply.  And Jesus refused to answer their query verbally.

He had, however, answered them by the way he handled them.  Jesus was still a force with which to reckon.  Those with authority do not need to speak of it much, for it is obvious.  They carry themselves with authority, and that is enough.  So beware of those who speak incessantly about their power and authority; they are probably insecure in both.

Ben Sira wrote of his quest for wisdom.  He pursued wisdom, attempted to live what he had learned, and gave all glory to God.  He had no regrets.  Psalm 19 contains one of favorite lines of scripture:

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever,
the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

Sometimes these judgments say that we are wrong, that we need to repent.  Many people misunderstand the meaning of “repent.”  It means far more than apologizing to someone (such as God) or lamenting one’s sins.  Actually, to repent is turn around, change one’s mind, and to be transformed.  Even the possibility of transformation can prove terrifying, but it is way to deeper spiritual life in God, or just to spiritual life in God.  So, when Gods says we are wrong, may we repent, not become defensive.

Now, for the rest of the story.  The Romans ended the Temple and the Temple system by force in 70 C.E., when they destroyed Jerusalem.








Adapted from this post:


The Creative Power of Words   1 comment

Above:  Jesus Healing the Blind Man (circa 1625-1650), by Eustache Le Sueur


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.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 42:15-25 (Revised English Bible):

How shall I call to mind the works of the Lord

and describe what I have seen,

his works which by his word were made.

As everything is illumined by the rays of the sun,

so the works of the Lord are full of his glory.

Even to the angels the Lord has not given the power

to tell the full tale of the marvels

accomplished by the Lord Almighty,

so that the universe may stand firm in his glory.

He fathoms both the abyss and the human heart,

he is versed in their intricacies;

for the Most High possesses all knowledge,

and the signs of the times are under his eye.

He discloses both past and future,

and lays bare the traces of secret things.

No thought escapes his notice,

and not a single word is hidden from him.

He has set in order the masterpieces of his wisdom,

he who is One from eternity to eternity;

nothing is added, nothing taken away,

and he needs none to give him counsel.

How pleasing is all that he has made,

even the smallest spark the eye can see!

His works endure, all of them active for ever

and all responsive to their several functions.

All things go in pairs, one counterpart of the other;

he has made nothing incomplete.

One thing supplements the virtues of another.

Of his glory who can ever see too much?

Psalm 33:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and lyre.

3 sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

4 For the word of the LORD is right,

and all of his works are sure.

5 He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

Mark 10:46-52 (Revised English Bible):

They came to Jericho; and as he was leaving the town, with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was seated at the roadside.  Hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout,

“Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me!”

Many of the people told him to hold his tongue; but he shouted all the more,

“Son of David, have pity on me.”

Jesus stopped and said,

Call him;

so they called the blind man:

Take heart,

they said.

Get up; he is calling you.

At that he threw off his cloak, jumped to his feet, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him,

What do you want me to do for you?

The blind man answered,

Rabbi, I want my sight back.

Jesus said to him,

Go; your faith as healed you.

At once he recovered his sight and followed him on the road.


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.


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

The old saying I have quoted above is a lie.  Many of us know this from experience, do we not?  My point is this:  words have the power to create a new reality.

According the Jewish mythology incorporated into the Christian Bible, God spoke the universe into existence.  And, as the psalmist and Ben Sira remind us, the created order spoken into existence is majestic, beautiful, and abounding in divine wisdom. I am sufficiently panentheistic (without falling into anti-scientific notions such as creationism) to perceive God in nature, from a sunset to cricket chirps.  Nature is especially beautiful when one regards it as an expression of the sacred.  One does not exploit what one regards as sacred, and environmental stewardship becomes a religious duty, not just a biological imperative.  No, one stands in awe in the presence of what one regards as sacred, and one seeks and finds the words of God there.   Maybe the crickets chirp them.  One does not know for sure until one listens closely enough for long enough.

Speaking of the presence of the sacred, we have the story of Jesus, en route to Jerusalem for Passover, healing blind Bartimaeus.  This is a good time to point out where we are in the Markan narrative.  The book has sixteen chapters; we are at the end of Chapter 10.  Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem for his last celebration of the Passover.  He will die very soon.  He is a man with quite a bit on his mind, but not too much to help this blind man others are trying to keep quiet.

Bartimaeus, the author of the Gospel of Mark tells us, was a blind beggar.  He had little, and his disability rendered him marginal in his society.  Ancient blindness had a variety of causes, ranging from being born that way to having a diet lacking sufficient vitamins to experiencing eye diseases to suffering the effects of bird droppings.  There was a common cultural belief in First Century C.E. Palestine that blindness and other physical ailments resulted from sin; this point arises more than once in the canonical gospels.  So here we have Bartimaeus, who cannot earn a living because he is blind, and whom others regard as unusually sinful.

He hears that Jesus is passing by.  So Bartimaeus seizes his opportunity and calls out to Jesus.  Our Lord and Savior hears these persistent pleas and answers them.  With words Bartimaeus helps create his new reality (one of sight), and with words Jesus completes the process.  And what does Bartimaeus do next?  He follows Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

I think that the end of this story contains a deeper level of meaning.  Of course Bartimaeus follows Jesus for the remaining fifteen miles to Jerusalem for Passover.  But he follows Jesus in a non-literal way, too.  Bartimaeus follows Jesus for the rest of his life, however long or short that may be.  His ending might not be pleasant, assuming the full meaning of the metaphor.   Yet what time he has left is dedicated to following Jesus, and that is a high calling indeed.

And it began with a simple, persistent plea for mercy.  It started with words.

Ben Sira asks a profound question:

Of his glory who can ever see too much?

I suspect that, had someone asked Bartimaeus this question over a week after the healing, he would have said that nobody can ever see too much divine glory.  He saw more than he expected he would on that day when Jesus passed by, and everything he witnessed changed his life.

Words have the power to create.  What will the results of your words be?








Adapted from this post:


Jesus, Who Contradicts Many of Our Assumptions   1 comment

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


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.


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.


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.


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.





Adapted from this post:


Jesus: In Continuity with the Prophets   3 comments

Above:  The Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Zarapheth


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 48:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

Then there arose Elijah, a prophet like fire,

whose word blazed like a torch.

He brought famine on the people,

and in his zeal reduced them in number.

By the word of the Lord he shut up the sky,

and three times he called down fire from heaven.

How glorious you were, Elijah, in your miracles!

Who else can boast such deeds?

By the word of the Most High

you raised a corpse from death and the grave.

You sent kings and famous men

from their sick-beds down to destruction.

You heard a rebuke at Sinai,

a sentence of doom at Horeb.

You anointed kings for retribution,

and a prophet to succeed you.

You were taken up to heaven in a fiery whirlwind,

in a chariot drawn by horses of fire.

Scripture records that you are to come at the appointed time

to allay the divine wrath before it erupts in fury,

to reconcile father and son,

and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Happy are those who see you,

happy those who have fallen asleep in love!

(For we also shall certainly live.)

Psalm 80:1-3, 14-19 (Revised English Bible):

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,

leading Joseph like a flock.

Shine forth, as you sit enthroned on the cherubim,

Leading Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh,

rouse your might and come to our rescue.

God, restore us,

and make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

God of hosts, turn to us, we pray;

look down from heaven and see.

Tend this vine,

this stock which your right hand has planted.

May those who set it on fire and cut it down

perish before your angry look.

Let your hand rest on the one at your right side,

the one whom you have made strong for your service.

Then we shall not turn back from you;

grant us new life, and we shall invoke you by name.

LORD God of Hosts, restore us,

and make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

Matthew 17:9-13 (Revised English Bible):

(This reading is set immediately after the Transfiguration.)

On their way down the mountain, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone of the vision until the Son of Man had been raised from the dead.  The disciples put a question to him:

Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?

He replied,

Elijah is to come and set everything right.  But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they failed to recognize him, and did to him as they wanted; in the same way the Son of Man must suffer at their hands.

Then the disciples understood that he meant John the Baptist.

The Collect:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


I am a Christian.  By this simple statement I mean that I am a partisan of Christ, one who follows Jesus of Nazareth.  As such I affirm the humanity, divinity, life, death, resurrection, and teachings of the Lord and Savior.  Jesus is the incarnation of God, in line with the Prophets, the last of which was John the Baptist, and the ultimate expression of what a human life can be and can be worth.

I grew up in southern Georgia, the buckle of the Baptist Belt.  There the dominant church culture places great stress of verbal confessions of faith–too much, I think, often at the expense of a quieter, lived, non-verbal orthodoxy.  My faith runs deeply, but rarely in Baptist-style vocalizations.  So, for example, very little of my prayer life is oral, especially in public.  From time to time I have had negative encounters with earnest Baptists and other Protestants who have not understood my faith and approach to it.  And I felt no obligation to justify myself to them.  I still don’t.

Growing up in southern Georgia, I was a relative heretic.  (Not that anything is wrong with that, to borrow a phrase from a Seinfeld episode.)  Nevertheless, I am actually more orthodox than many people might suspect.  Seldom do I get into this with people, for God, not they, is my judge.

Anyway, I make these points at this time and in this place because they fit the readings.  I am writing these words on Memorial Day 2010, but the stated occasion is the Fourteenth Day of Advent, in December.  (I like to write ahead of time.) These readings indicate that Jesus stands in line with the Prophets of Yahweh while one of them foreshadows his death and resurrection.  In the midst of expectation we find a mention of the dark side of the narrative.

So, while the countdown to Christmas continues, let us remember the rest of the story.





Adapted from this post: