Archive for the ‘Luke 20’ Category

The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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The Fruits of Uprightness   Leave a comment

Above:  Still Life with Fruit, by Severin Roesen

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O God, our Refuge and Strength, who art the author of all godliness;

be ready, we beseech thee, to hear the devout prayers of thy Church;

and grant that those things which we ask faithfully, we may obtain effectually;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 225

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Deuteronomy 7:9-11

Psalm 40:1-13

Philippians 1:3-11

Luke 20:27-38

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…entirely filled with the fruits of uprightness through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God.

–Philippians 10b-11, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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“Fruits of uprightness” is a wonderful term, is it not?  The main alternative rendering in English seems to be “harvest of righteousness,” which is also evocative.

A covenant is not a contract.  Nevertheless, a covenant does not come with consequences.  In Covenantal Nomism, salvation comes via grace–belonging to the covenant.  The maintenance of salvation comes via keeping the law of God, especially the ethical and moral mandates.  Damnation comes via dropping out of the covenant, which one dies repeatedly and unrepentantly violating those ethical and moral obligations.  This perspective pervades the Hebrew Bible.

Attempting to entrap Jesus in his words was inconsistent with a faithful response to the message of God.  Sadducees rejected belief in the afterlife.  As a children’s song I learned years ago says,

That’s why they were sad, you see.

The question about levirate marriage (Genesis 38:6-11; Deuteronomy 25:5; Ruth 3:9-4:10).

Christ’s answer that God is the God of the living, not the dead (v. 38) echoes 4 Maccabees:

But as many attend to religion with a whole heart, these alone are able to control the passions of the flesh, since they believe that they, like our patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, do not die to God, but live in God.

–4 Maccabees 7:18-19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

God is the source of life for the faithful in Luke 20:27-38 and 4 Maccabees 7:18-19.  What a rebuke of the Sadducees!

God is the source of life for the faithful, regardless or whether they have pulses.  The lives of the faithful, therefore, will bear the fruits of uprightness.  Such lives cannot do otherwise.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT AND HIS PUPIL, SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS

THE FEAST OF DANIEL J. SIMUNDSON, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HENRY AUGUSTINE COLLINS, ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BARNBY, ANGLICAN CHURCH MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SOMERSET CORRY LOWRY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Images of Gods   1 comment

Above:  The Tribute Money, by Titian

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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Jeremiah 23:1-6

Psalm 100

Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 20:20-26

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The application of imagery reserved for YHWH in the Hebrew Bible to Jesus in the New Testament makes sense, given Trinitarian theology.  Psalm 100 lauds God (YHWH), the Good Shepherd.  YJWH is the Good Shepherd in Jeremiah 23:1-6.  Jesus is the self-identified Good Shepherd in John 10, not one of today’s assigned readings.  Jesus, like YHWH in various Psalms, has primacy in creation, according to Colossians 1:15.

I will turn to the Gospel reading next.

This reading, set early in Holy Week, is one in which Jesus evades a trap:

Is it permissible for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

–Luke 20:23b, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

“Yes” and “no” were dangerous answers.  If Jesus had replied, “no,” he would have made himself a target for Romans, who were swarming in Jerusalem that week.  On the other hand, if Jesus had responded, “yes,” he would have offended those who interpreted the Law of Moses to read that paying such taxes was illegal.

Jesus evaded the trap and ensnared those trying to ensnare him.  Why did the spies carry Roman denarii into the Temple complex?  A denarius, an idol, technically.  That year, the image on the coin was that of Emperor Tiberius.  The English translation of the Latin inscription was,

Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, Augustus.

Jesus asked a seemingly obvious question with a straight-forward answer.

Show me a denarius.  Whose head and name are on it?

–Luke 20:25, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The answer was obvious.  Our Lord and Savior’s answer was one for the ages:

Well then, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar–and to God what belongs to God.

–Luke 20:25, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The coin bore the image of Tiberius Caesar.  He was welcome to have it back.

Each of us bears the image of God.  Each of us belongs to God.  Each of us has a mandate to be faithful to God in all matters.  All areas of human life fall under divine authority.  Human, temporal authority is limited, though.

One of the features of segments of Christianity in the United States of America that disturbs me is the near-worship (sometimes worship) of the nation-state.  I refer not exclusively to any given administration and/or nation-state.  Administrations come and go.  Nation-states rise and fall.  The principle of which I write remains constant.  In my North American context, the Americanization of the Gospel in the service of a political program and/or potentate dilutes and distorts the Gospel.  The purposes of the Gospel include confronting authority, not following it blindly.  True Judeo-Christian religion has a sharp prophetic edge that informs potentates how far they fall short of God’s ideals and that no nation-state is the Kingdom of God.

We have only one king anyway.  That monarch is YHWH, as N. T. Wright correctly insists in Jesus and the Victory of God (1996).  Jesus defies human definitions of monarchy.  This is a prominent theme in the Gospel of John.  Yet the theme of Christ the King Sunday is timeless.  Despite appearances to the contrary, God remains sovereign.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH; AND SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, PATRIARCH AND “FATHER OF ORTHODOXY”

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SILVESTER HORNE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FRIEDRICH HASSE, GERMAN-BRITISH MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JULIA BULKLEY CADY CORY, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2020/05/02/devotion-for-proper-29-year-c-humes/

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Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part VII   Leave a comment

Above:  Caesar’s Coin, by Peter Paul Rubens

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace,

that they may be cleansed from all their sins,

and serve thee with a quiet mind.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 221

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Proverbs 16:1-20

Psalms 126 and 129

Ephesians 5:1-16

Matthew 22:15-22

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The Synoptic Gospels tell many of the same stories, but not identically.  That is how oral tradition works; the core remains consistent yet the margins are variable.  Identifying the constant and the variable elements of repeated stories from one Synoptic Gospel to another is easy.  One may, most simply, see them in parallel columns in books of Gospel parallels.  I have two such volumes–Gospel Parallels (Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr.) and Synopsis of the Four Gospels (Kurt Aland).

Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 20:20-26, and Mark 12:13-17 are parallel to each other.  The question was superficially about taxes in general in Luke 20.  In Mark 12 and Matthew 22, however, the tax in question was a census/poll/head tax of one denarius per year.  A denarius, a worker’s wage for one day, at the time bore the image of Emperor Tiberius,

son of the divine Augustus.

A denarius was, therefore, an idol.  Why did Pharisees carry idols around with them?  The tax, which started in 6 C.E., led to the zealot movement.  Jesus avoided alienating zealots on one side and Romans on the other.  Those who sought to entrap Jesus retreated in humiliation (Psalm 129).

We belong to God.  We depend entirely on God.  Most of Ephesians 5:1-16 consists of commentary or advice consistent with the first two sentences of this paragraph:

Live in love as Christ loved you and gave himself up on your behalf, in offering and sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God.

–Ephesians 5:2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Value wisdom more than gold and silver.  Seek to build up each other, not to entrap and tear down each other.  Forgive one another as God has forgiven one.  Live generously.  All this advice is consistent with Ephesians 5:2.

Living this way may require one to surrender the idol of wanting to be right, of not want wanting to admit error.  A rare saint may not struggle with this temptation.  I am not part of that company.  I report accurately, however, that this struggle has decreased within me during the last few years.  Do not praise me, O reader; God has caused this change.

Anyhow, those who confronted Jesus in the Gospel story for today wanted to be right.  They sought to prove that they were right by placing Jesus in greater peril than he was in already.  He evaded their trap and showed them up, however.  They still refused to admit error.

Psychological defense mechanisms are powerful.  Many people, although confronted with objective evidence of their error or an error, refuse to admit being wrong.  They have leaned on ego instead.  Such defense of ego is destructive, both individually and collectively.  It contributes to the polarization of politics, whereby factions argue about what constitutes objective reality.  This ego defense also prevents individuals from maturing in their thinking and in their spiritual lives.

How much better would society be if more people were trying to build up each other, not beat each other into political, intellectual, and theological submission?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 1, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP AND JAMES, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Sins of Omission, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Widow’s Mite, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being:

We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit that in all the

cares and occupations of our daily life we may remember that we are ever walking in your sight;

for your name’s sake.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 154

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Ezekiel 18:23-32

Psalm 38

James 1:17-27

Luke 21:1-4

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Responsibility comes in two varieties–collective and individual.  My Western culture emphasizes the latter, frequently to the exclusion or minimization of the former.  Other cultures commit the opposite errors.  A balance is proper.

The theme of individual responsibility is present.  Ezekiel 18 (as well as 3:16-21; 14:12-23; and 33:1-20) argues against the theology of Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9, whereby God holds members of subsequent generations accountable for one’s sins.  Yes, one’s life can have consequences for members of subsequent generations.  I can, for example, identify how two of my great-grandfathers on my father’s side influence me, for good and ill.  I am not responsible for their sins, however.  I am, of course, responsible for my own.

The theme of collective responsibility is also present.  In Luke 21:21:1-4 we read the story of the widow’s mite.  If we read immediately before and after it also, however, we find context.  In Luke 20:45-57 Jesus denounces those scribes who “devout widows’ houses” while seeking and enjoying social status, as well as maintaining the appearance of piety.  Then we read of a devout and impoverished widow donating money she cannot spare to the Temple.  Next, in 21:5, Jesus predicts the destruction of that Temple.  A progression is evident.

We are responsible for what we do in groups as well as by ourselves.  We are also responsible for sins of omission.  May we, by grace, care effectively for each other, individually and collectively, and never “devour widows’ houses” or stand by idly and silently while that happens, when we have an opportunity to say or do something to protest, if not to protect the exploited.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARY SLESSOR, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY IN WEST AFRICA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FOX, FOUNDER OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

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And Pour Contempt On All My Pride   1 comment

figs

Above:  Figs

Image in the Public Domain

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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:

Jeremiah 9:23-24; 24:1-10

Psalm 115

Mark 11:27-33 and 12:35-37 or Luke 20:1-8 and 20:41-47 or John 21:20-25

2 Corinthians 10:1-17

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Boasting is overrated.  It is a pastime for many and a profession for others, but the fact remains that hubris will go before the fall.  The only proper boast is in divine grace and the merits of Jesus Christ.  A vocation from God is a cause to reflect on one’s responsibility and one’s total dependence on grace, not on one’s greatness or virtues.

Part of the Law of Moses is the reality that we depend completely on God, whom we have an obligation to glorify and to whom to return in repentance whenever we stray.  Nevertheless, many of us stray repeatedly and without the habit of repentance.  We might, as in the case of the scribes in Mark 12 and Luke 20, engage in or condone economic injustice–in violation of the Law of Moses.  More mundanely, we might question the authority of Jesus in our lives.  He will win that argument ultimately, of course.  We have the gift of free will; may we, by grace, refrain from abusing it often.  None of us can use free will properly all the time, but we can, by grace, improve over time.

May we say, with Isaac Watts (1674-1748),

When I survey the wondrous cross

where the young Prince of Glory died,

my richest gain I count but loss,

and pour contempt on all my pride.

And, consistent with Matthew 25:31-46, may we care for the least of Christ’s brethren.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 12, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN DOBER, MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER; JOHANN LEONHARD DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; AND ANNA SCHINDLER DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDITH CAVELL, NURSE AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF SCOTLAND, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT NECTARIUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/devotion-for-the-seventh-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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This is post #1600 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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The Idol of Public Respectability   1 comment

home

Above:  Odd Fellows Widows’ and Orphans’ Home, Corsicana, Texas, 1910

J149681 U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright deposit; Jno. J. Johnson; 1910

Copyright claimant’s address: Ennis, Tex.

Photographer = John J. Johnson

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-133853

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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:

Proverbs 1:1-7

Psalm 119:145-176

Mark 12:35-37 or Luke 20:41-47

1 John 2:3-29

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The term “fear of God” should be “awe of God,” for the latter translation conveys the concept accurately.  Certain distractions can draw our attention away from God and the awe thereof.  Among these are suffering (not necessarily a distraction, per Psalm 119, yet a distraction for many), worldly appetites (also not necessarily distractions inherently, but distractions for many), and false teaching (always a distraction).  The issue is idolatry.  An idol is an object, teaching, philosophy, or practice that draws attention and awe away from God.  Many idols for many people are not idols for many other people.  If someone treats something as an idol, it is an idol for that person.

One can seem to be holy and free of idols yet be disingenuous.  In the parallel readings from mark (extended) and Luke Jesus condemns those who put on airs of righteousness yet crave public respectability and devour the property of widows, in violation of the Law of Moses.  The spiritual successors of the scribes Jesus condemned are numerous, unfortunately.  Some of them even have their own television programs.

Public respectability is not a virtue in the Gospel of Luke:

Alas for you when the world speaks well of you!  This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.

–Luke 6:26, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

That saying’s companion is:

Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, then your reward will be great in heaven.  This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.

–Luke 6:23, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

This is a devotion for the Feast of the Ascension.  The selection of these lections seems odd, I admit, but one can make the connection.  After the Ascension Jesus was no longer physically present with his Apostles.  Afterward, however, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and empowered them to do much to spread the word of Jesus and to glorify God.  Of the original Apostles (including St. Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot) only two did not die as martyrs.  St. John the Evangelist suffered much for God and died of natural causes.  Those Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot) did not crave and did not receive public respectability.  They did, however, glorify God and change the world for the better.

May we resist the idol of public respectability and, by grace, live so as to glorify God and benefit our fellow human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 12, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN DOBER, MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER; JOHANN LEONHARD DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; AND ANNA SCHINDLER DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDITH CAVELL, NURSE AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF SCOTLAND, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT NECTARIUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/devotion-for-the-feast-of-the-ascension-year-d/

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Taking Difficult Passages of Scripture Seriously   1 comment

tamar-and-judah

Above:  Tamar and Judah, by Aert de Gelder

Image in the Public Domain

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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:

Genesis 38:1-30 or Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

Psalm 10

Matthew 22:23-33 or Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:39-40

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

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I recall that, in 1996, my father began his tenure as pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley, in Appling County, Georgia.  Shortly after this I began to attend to services at St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church in town, for I had been an Episcopalian for a few years.  Nevertheless, I was never a stranger at Asbury Church during my father’s tenure there.

One of the adult Sunday School classes at Asbury was discussing the Book of Genesis at the pace of a chapter a week.  On one Sunday morning in the summer of 1996 the leader of the group, having covered Chapter 37 the previous week, skipped over Chapter 38 to Chapter 39, with little explanation.  The story of Judah, Tamar, levirate marriage (the background of the question in the readings from the Gospels), and temple prostitution was a really hot potato, so to speak.  The narrative in Genesis 38 does not criticize a young, childless widow for having sexual relations with her father-in-law at a pagan temple and becoming pregnant with twins.  In her situation she did what she needed to do to secure her future.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 commands the practice of levirate marriage, for the benefit of a childless widow in a patriarchal society without a government-defined social safety net.  In the case of Genesis 38 the practice, applied to a particular set of circumstances, makes many modern readers of the Bible squirm in their theological seats.  This is no excuse for ignoring the chapter, of course.  Whenever a portion of scripture makes one uncomfortable, one should study it more closely and, in the highest meaning of the word, critically.

The Sadducees in the parallel readings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not ignore levirate marriage, but they did employ it in a question meant to entrap Jesus.  They did not affirm the resurrection of the dead.  That is why, according to a song for children,

they were sad, you see.

For the Sadducees the emphasis on this life helped to justify the accumulation of wealth in a society in which economic injustice was ubiquitous.  They, like others, failed to ensnare Jesus verbally.  He was that capable.

Koheleth, writing in Ecclesiastes, noted that economic injustice and other forms of social injustice ought not to surprise anyone.  After all, he mentioned, perpetrators of injustice protect each other.  Nevertheless, as the author of Psalm 10 understood, those who exploited the poor (in violation of the Law of Moses) could not escape divine justice.

Just as the painful letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthian congregation led to the changing of hearts there, the study of difficult passages of scripture can lead people to learn more about the Bible, ask vital questions, think more critically about scripture, and grow spiritually.  It can also change hearts and minds for the better.  May we who call ourselves followers of God neither ignore nor use such passages flippantly, but take them seriously instead.  Then may we act accordingly.  We might even learn that we are committing or condoning social injustice, perhaps that of the economic variety.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 11, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP THE EVANGELIST, DEACON

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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Human Traditions and Divine Authority   1 comment

Moses and the Burning Bush

Above:   Moses and the Burning Bush

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 3:13-20

Psalm 17:1-9

Luke 20:1-8

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Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down, you will find no impurity in me.

–Psalm 17:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Moses had been a fugitive from Egyptian justice from Exodus 2.  Egyptian juris prudence frowned upon killing taskmasters in charge of slaves (2:11-15).  Moses was safely distant from Egypt and hopefully happily married when God called him to return to Egypt, to participate in the liberation of the Hebrews.  In reply to the request for a name, God provided a non-name, indicating the absence of human control over the divine.

Throughout the long narrative of the Bible prophets were frequently inconvenient to people in authority.  There were false prophets who agreed with the monarchs who favored them, but prophets of God were often in the faces of kings.  St. John the Baptist, standing in this tradition, ran afoul of religious authorities and Herod Antipas.  Jesus, greater than the prophets, had many confrontations with religious authorities and proved to be a better debater than any of them.  God was doing a new thing via Jesus, and religious authorities, wedded to their traditions and collaborating with the Roman Empire, found it threatening.

Tradition itself is not bad; neither is it inherently good.  Tradition is simply that which one generation passes down to another.  The best question to ask in this context is the one which evaluates any given tradition on its merits.  May we avoid becoming so attached to our traditions that we oppose the work of God, who is beyond our control.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Freedom in God, Part III   1 comment

Paul Writing His Epistles

Above:   Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God among us, we gather in the name of your Son

to learn love for one another.  Keep our feet from evil paths.

Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace

revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 17:1-5 (Tuesday)

Proverbs 21:10-16 (Wednesday)

Psalm 12 (Both Days)

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (Tuesday)

Luke 20:45-21:4 (Wednesday)

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“Because the needy are oppressed,

and the poor cry out in misery,

I will rise up,” says the LORD,

“and give them the help they long for.”

–Psalm 12:5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Justice done is a joy to the righteous,

To evildoers, ruination.

–Proverbs 21:15, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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He who mocks the poor affronts his Maker;

He who rejoices over another’s misfortune will not go unpunished.

–Proverbs 17:5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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If the reading from Luke 20 and 21 seems familiar, O reader who has also read the last few posts attentively, it is.  That pericope is, in fact, a retelling of Mark 12:38-44.  My comments about the story of the widow’s mite remain unchanged.

As for the reading from 1 Corinthians, St. Paul the Apostle reminds us in Chapter 9 that our freedom in God is for the purposes of God–not to glorify oneself or to obstruct or ignore God.  As my Presbyterian brethren state correctly, the chief and highest end of people is to glorify and enjoy God forever.  How we treat our fellow human beings, especially those who are vulnerable, is telling.  Whenever we help them, we help Jesus.  Whenever we do not help them, we do not help Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46).

How do you, O reader, use your freedom in God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 19, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW BOBOLA, JESUIT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT DUNSTAN OF CANTERBURY, ABBOT OF GLASTONBURY AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVO OF CHARTRES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVO OF KERMARTIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ADVOCATE OF THE POOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/devotion-for-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-20-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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