Archive for the ‘Genesis II: 12-25’ Category

Passing or Failing Spiritual Tests   Leave a comment

Above:  Temptations of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who givest us our quiet seasons of thought and prayer:

help us now and at all times to find in thee our true peace.

Save us in the hour of trial, deliver us from evil thoughts and desires,

and from the tyranny of outward things.

May we learn of Christ to be strong and brave in the struggle with temptation,

and to over come even as he overcame.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120-121

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Genesis 22:1-8

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Matthew 4:1-11

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One’s sole basis of identity should be God, according to Henri J. M. Nouwen, writing in The Way of the Heart (1981).  That standard proves daunting for me, for my ego rests on several factors, including my intellect.

In Matthew 4 we read of the temptations of Jesus.  Analyses of the temptations, with slight variations, follow the same pattern.  Nouwen’s argument is that the temptations were, in order, were “the three great compulsions of the world”:  to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.  The case according to M. Eugene Boring, writing in Volume VIII (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, follows:

  1. To fulfill messianic expectations and gain political power by feeding the masses,
  2. To demonstrate dramatically that he is the Son of God, and
  3. To serve Satan, to rule as the Roman Emperor did, and to accept and fit in with the status quo.

The case according to Douglas R. A. Hare (1993) is that the temptations were, in order, to distrust God, to dishonor God, and to commit idolatry.

I would be remiss if I chose not to quote the play, Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), set in the U.S. South.  In that paraphrase, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into grits.  Jesus replies,

Man doesn’t live by grits alone, but on every word that drips from the lips of God.

–35

I experience no temptation to justify the actions of Abraham in Genesis 22.  My analysis differs from what one may have read and heard elsewhere:  God tested Abraham, and Abraham failed, for he should have argued from the beginning.

Abraham cared more about strangers, on whose behalf he haggled with God in Genesis 18, than he about his sons.  He exiled Ishmael in Genesis 21 and was prepared to kill Isaac in Genesis 22.  Arguing faithfully with God has long been part of Judaism and, by extension, Christianity.  Abraham, at the root of Judaism, had argued with God.  Why was he submissive at this crucial moment?  And how much did he damage his domestic relationships?

I have probably read every traditional rationalization of Genesis 22:1-19.  Not one has satisfied me.

One could write about more than one theme present in 2 Corinthians 6, but verse 3 stands out in my mind.  Erecting spiritual obstacles is a frequent human activity.  One might even mistake doing so for being properly devout.  Who is an outsider?  Who is an insider?  Our answers to those may be predictable, but God’s answers may shock us.  Also, we must trust in God if we are to grow spiritually, but do we really understand divine intentions at crucial moments?

One may wish for a clear–even spectacular–sign or signs.  Yet would we understand those, or would we find the signs distracting and miss the message?  Yes, we would, correct?

I ask God for no spectacular signs.  No, I need simply to pay attention to my surroundings.  As I type these words, the seasons are finally turning–from an abbreviated autumn to an early winter.  The splendor of autumn leaves, cold temperatures, and other wonders of nature satisfy many of my spiritual needs.

Trusting in God remains difficult for me much of the time, but doing so is at least less difficult than it used to be.  Grace accounts for that change.  I trust more progress will ensue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Nature and Human Nature   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, by Ludolf Bakhuizen

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, who knowest us to be in the midst of many dangers, that we cannot always stand upright;

grant to us such strength and protection that we may be supported in all difficulty,

and our feet be set against temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 119

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Genesis 18:22-33

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Matthew 8:23-27

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The story of Abraham haggling with God for the lives of complete strangers in Genesis 18 impresses me.  It also causes me to wonder why he was so submissive to God’s demand in Genesis  21.  I can only guess how much psychological damage the sight of a father ready to kill his son (Isaac) caused to the son.

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

The warning against sexual immorality in general in prostitution in particular in 1 Corinthians 6 is part of a longer discourse about sexual morality in that epistle.  Prostitution is not, despite the common term, a victimless crime.  Readings in history reveal that many prostitute have been sexual slaves, for example.  Furthermore, everyone involved pays some sort of price, monetary or otherwise.  Readings in history also reveal that many women have become prostitutes as a last resort–to avoid starvation.  Any society that forces people into that dilemma commits sin against God and them.

In the case of 1 Corinthians, temple prostitution is a matter to consider.  When one realizes that, one comes to understand that clients were uniting themselves with a false, imaginary deity, as well as with a prostitute.  This understanding adds depth to one’s grasp of the language about unions and a temple in the passage.

The title of this post is “Nature and Human Nature.”  The “human nature” aspect is plain from what precedes this paragraph.  For the rest we must turn to Matthew 8, where we read of Jesus calming an aquatic storm.  To be fearful when one’s life is in danger is human nature.  Sexuality is why the human species continues, as well as a means of commerce.  Advertising confirms the end of the previous sentence.

But what about empathy?  It is part of human nature, too.  Nevertheless, so is the lack of concern for strangers and those different from us.  The dehumanization and demonization of the “other” is an old–and current–strategy in politics and warfare.

The Incarnation had much meaning.  Part of that meaning was God empathizing with us.  This empathy was evident in the life and ministry of Jesus, who established examples for those who came to call themselves Christians to follow.

God, who has mastery over nature, commands us to live up to the best of our human nature and to rise above the depths of our human nature, for the sake of divine glory, the benefit of others, and the living into our potential in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 29, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES HANNINGTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EASTERN EQUATORIAL AFRICA; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMAUS HELDER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH GRIFF, ENGLISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PAUL MANZ, DEAN OF LUTHERAN CHURCH MUSIC

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The Law of Mercy   1 comment

Above:  Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 38:1-26 or Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 18:31-36, 43-50

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Matthew 12:1-21

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Temple prostitution, in the background in Genesis 38, might be background for 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 also.  If it is, the reading becomes deeper than it is otherwise.  If to engage in sexual relations with a pagan prostitute is to unite with the deity the prostitute serves, idolatry becomes an issue.  Christians are supposed to function as part of the body of Christ, therefore visiting a pagan temple prostitute is worse than visiting a prostitute in general.

Speaking of Genesis 38, it is another of those different stories we find frequently in the Hebrew Bible.  It remains a proverbial hot potato.  When must a father-in-law sire his grandsons?  When the laws governing levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) dictate.  The text does not condemn Tamar for her deceit either, for the narrative makes plain that it was the option left open to her.

In June 1996 my father became the pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church in northern Appling County, Georgia, U.S.A.  One of the adult Sunday School classes was reading the Book of Genesis a chapter at a time.  One week the teacher announced that the class would not discuss Chapter 38 (although they had apparently discussed Chapter 37 the previous week), but would talk about Chapter 39 instead.  I wonder if the teacher also skipped the rape of Dinah and the subsequent bloodbath in Chapter 34.  Probably, yes.

When passages of scripture make us that uncomfortable, we should study them.  We should study all of the Bible, of course, but double down on the parts that cause us to squirm.

God is strong, mighty, loving, and trustworthy, we read.  Sometimes mercy on some takes the form of judgment on others.  After all, judgment on oppressors does help the oppressed, does it not?

Much occurs theologically in Matthew 12:1-21, but the major point is that mercy overrides Sabbath laws.  We read that some labor was mandatory on the Sabbath, especially for priests.  So yes, we read Jesus announce, the hungry may pluck grain and the man with the withered hand may receive healing, not just rudimentary first aid.

In the Gospel of Matthew one of the points drilled into the text was that Jesus did not seek to destroy the Law of Moses.  No, he presented his interpretation as correct and in opposition to the interpretations of his critics.  Jesus stood within the context of Judaism, not against it.  For example, the Mishnah, published in 200 C.E. (about 170 years after the crucifixion of Jesus), listed 39 types of labor prohibited on the Sabbath.  Plucking food was not one of them.  Christ’s opponents in Chapter 12:1-21 were, to use an anachronistic expression, more Catholic than the Pope.

The Sabbath, in the Law of Moses, was about liberation.  Slaves in Egypt received no days off, so a day off was a mark of freedom.  Besides, science and experience have taught us the necessity of down time.  Much of my Christian tradition has reacted against leisure (especially “worldly amusements,” a bane of Pietism and Puritanism) and insisted that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.  Nevertheless, science and experience have affirmed the necessity of a certain amount of idleness.

Judaism, at its best, is not legalistic; neither is Christianity.  Yet legalistic Jews and Christians exist.  A healthy attitude is to seek to respond to God faithfully, without becoming lost in the thicket of laws, without failing to see the forest for the trees, without mistaking culturally specific examples for timeless principles, without shooting cannon balls at gnats, and without forgetting mercy.

And while one is doing that, one should read the scriptural passages that make one squirm in one’s seat.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/devotion-for-proper-16-year-a-humes/

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Trusting in God, Part VIII   1 comment

Above:  Joseph Reveals His Dream to His Brethren, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 37:1-28 or Isaiah 30:15-25

Psalm 18:16-30

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Matthew 11:2-19

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Patriarchs in Genesis had dysfunctional families.  Abraham tried to kill his son Isaac, on faith that God had told him to do so.  (Yes, I argue with that story.)  Isaac’s son Jacob, with the help of Jacob’s mother, fooled him and defrauded Esau.  Jacob seemed not to care about the rape of his daughter Dinah and, in a different context, acted in such a way as to foster tension among his sons, most of whom fooled him into thinking that his son Joseph was dead.  With family like that, who needs enemies?

The main idea in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 is that believers ought to conduct themselves in ways that glorify God and distinguish them from unbelievers.  Yet even when holy people do that, they will still receive criticism, for some people thrive on finding faults, even if those faults are imaginary.  It is preferable that the criticisms be baseless; that way they show up the critics.

During the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.), the kingdom entered into a military alliance with Egypt against Assyria.  This was an ill-advised alliance; Egypt was not trustworthy.  The author of Isaiah 30 argued that the alliance indicated a lack of trust in God, who was reliable.  After the announcement of divine wrath followed the prediction of mercy.

Trusting in God liberates one to do as one should and become the person one should be.  One can lay aside the desire for revenge, not to lead a life defined by anger, and value justice instead.  With confidence in God one can avoid foolish decisions that end badly.  One, trusting in God, can find the source of ultimate peace and strength.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/devotion-for-proper-15-year-a-humes/

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Vehicles of Grace   1 comment

Above:  Esau Selling His Birthright, by Hendrick ter Brugghen

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 25:17-34 or Isaiah 1:1-20 (portions)

Psalm 11

1 Corinthians 1:1-18

Matthew 7:15-29

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Waiting on and trusting in God can be very difficult, but it is the thematic thread uniting these readings.  Nevertheless, some of the figures from certain readings for today seem like unlikely exemplars of waiting on and trusting in God.

The narrative about Jacob portrays Israel in its earthiest and most scandalous appearance in Genesis.  The narrative is not edifying in any conventional religious or moral sense.  Indeed, if one comes to the narrative with such an agenda, the narrative is offensive.  But for that very reason, the Jacob narrative is most lifelike.  It presents Jacob in the crude mixture of motives.  The grandson of the promise is a rascal compared to his faithful grandfather Abraham or his successful father Isaac.  The affirmations of faith in this narrative are especially robust.  The narrator knows that the purposes of God are tangled in a web of self-interest and self-seeking.

–Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (1982), page 204

Saul of Tarsus thought he was obeying God while oppressing Christians.  After realizing his error, he became St. Paul the Apostle, a vital figure in the mission to the Gentiles.

Each of us is imperfect.  All of us can do better.  Each of us can be a vehicle of grace, by grace.  Seeking to obey God is laudable, but how can we succeed?  The judgments of our culture are not always helpful in this matter.  Furthermore, if we think we are listening to God, we might be, but we might also be conducting on internal dialogue instead.  As much as one might try to wait on and trust in God, one might miss the channel, so to speak.

I offer no easy answers because I have none.  Besides, an easy answer to a difficult question is a wrong answer.  I suggest, however, that one is less likely to go wrong by seeking the good of other people rather than by living selfishly.  One might sin in how one seeks to build up others, but at least on is pointing in the right direction.  Yet good intentions are the pavement stones in road to Hell, so one needs grace to make wise decisions daily.  Good intentions are at least good, but they are insufficient.

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

That truth is a quote from the Westminster Larger Catechism.  The sentence is a fine general statement of principle.  The particulars vary according to the circumstances of life–who, where, and when one is.  May we, by grace, bear good fruit for God, and therefore glorify him, and enjoy him fully forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLIFFORD BAX, POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EUGENIUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES RENATUS VERBEEK, MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF PETER RICKSEEKER, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER; STUDENT OF JOHANN CHRISTIAN BECHLER, MORAVIAN MINISTER , MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER; FATHER OF JULIUS THEODORE BECHLER, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/13/devotion-for-proper-8-year-a-humes/

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The Light of Christ, Part IV   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Resurrection

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

At least three of the following sets:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13 and Psalm 46

Genesis 22:1-18 and Psalm 16

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 and Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18

Isaiah 55:1-11 and Isaiah 12:2-6

Ezekiel 20:1-24 and Psalm 19

Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Psalms 42 and 43

Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Psalm 143

Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Psalm 98

Then:

Romans 6:3-11

Psalm 114

Matthew 28:1-10

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The history of the Great Vigil of Easter is interesting.  We do not know when the service began, but we do know that it was already well-established in the second century C.E.  We also know that the Great Vigil was originally a preparation for baptism.  Reading the history of the Easter Vigil reveals the elaboration of the rite during ensuing centuries, to the point that it lasted all night and was the Easter liturgy by the fourth century.  One can also read of the separation of the Easter Vigil and the Easter Sunday service in the sixth century.  As one continues to read, one learns of the vigil becoming a minor afternoon ritual in the Roman missal of 1570.  Then one learns of the revival of the Easter Vigil in Holy Mother Church in the 1950s then, in North America, in The Episcopal Church and mainline Lutheranism during the liturgical renewal of the 1960s and 1970s.  Furthermore, if one consults the U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1993) and The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), on finds the ritual for the Great Vigil of Easter in those volumes.

The early readings for the Easter Vigil trace the history of God’s salvific work, from creation to the end of the Babylonian Exile.  The two great Hebrew Biblical themes of exile and exodus are prominent.  Then the literal darkness ends, the lights come up, and the priest announces the resurrection of Jesus.  The eucharistic service continues and, if there are any candidates for baptism, that sacrament occurs.

One of the chants for the Easter Vigil is

The light of Christ,

to which the congregation chants in response,

Thanks be to God.

St. Paul the Apostle, writing in Romans, reminds us down the corridors of time that the light of Christ ought to shine in our lives.  May that light shine brightly through us, by grace, that we may glorify God every day we are on this side of Heaven.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVS AND FOUNDER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/devotion-for-the-great-vigil-of-easter-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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Scapegoating, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Scapegoat, by William Holman Hunt

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, who by the passion of your blessed Son has made

the instrument of shameful death to be to us the means of life and peace:

Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss;

for the sake of the same your Son our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 98

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Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13

Psalm 6

Hebrews 9:11-14

John 11:47-53

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The old Methodist lectionary from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) has two sets of readings for the same Sunday–Palm/Passion Sunday.  The older tradition is to treat the Sunday at the beginning of Holy Week as a synopsis of that week.  That is what we have here.  Tailoring the observance of this Sunday is to be Palm Sunday–simply starting Holy Week–is what we will have in the next post.

We have sad and blood-soaked readings, as we should for Passion Sunday.  Genesis 22 offers the horrible story of Abraham nearly killing Isaac, his son.  We read previously in Genesis of Abraham negotiating with God for the lives of strangers (18:22-33), but we do not read of him doing the same for the life of his son.  The author of Psalm 6 is a severely ill person pleading for continued life.  Hebrews 9:11-14 reminds us of the power of the blood of Christ.  We read of the plot to scapegoat Jesus in John 11:47-53.  This is consistent with Luke  23, which emphasizes the innocence of Jesus and therefore the injustice of his crucifixion.

A scapegoat saves Isaac in Genesis 22 yet another scapegoat dies at Calvary.  I recall reading about the ultimate failure of the plot of Caiaphas to avoid the destruction of Jerusalem and Temple, for I remember reading about the First Jewish War a few decades later.  Scapegoating is a generally nasty practice, one that usually seeks to pervert justice.  One lesson of the scapegoating and crucifixion of Jesus is that we ought to abandon the practice of seeking scapegoats.

Another lesson is that God can work through human perfidy to fulfill divine purposes.  In the Gospel of John the crucifixion of Jesus is his glorification.  The insidious plot of Caiaphas, therefore, works for a higher purpose, despite the intentions of the high priest.  That is a fine example of the sovereignty of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIULIA VALLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ISAAC HECKER, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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