Archive for the ‘Luke 6’ Category

The Sermon on the Plain   Leave a comment

Above:  The Sermon of the Beatitudes, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XVI

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Luke 6:20-49

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If the FOX News Channel had existed in the time of Jesus, its “talent” would have lambasted Jesus.  The Woes (6:24-26) would have been examples of class warfare.  Jesus would have been a “woke” Social Justice Warrior–and probably a communist.  To quote a meme from a few years ago,

NO, BARACK OBAMA IS NOT A DARK-SKINNED SOCIALIST GIVING AWAY HEALTH CARE.  YOU’RE THINKING OF JESUS.

Jesus was a social revolutionary.  He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.  He died for doing so.

The Gospel of Matthew has the Sermon on the Mount.  The Gospel of Luke has the Sermon on the Plain.  This is no matter; both sermons are literary constructs anyway.  Their importance is their content.  In Luke 6:20f, the poor are poor, the hungry are hungry, and the weeping weep.  Also, the wealthy are receiving their consolation, those with plenty to eat will go hungry, those who are laughing will weep, and those who are renowned will be like false prophets.  The Lucan reversal of fortune is in full swing.

Jesus taught in a particular context.  The vast majority of the population was desperately poor.  The wealthy had either build their fortunes or maintained their fortunes by exploiting the poor.  The middle class was small.  This model has remained current in much of the world, unfortunately.

The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing wider for decades in my country, the United States of America.  The Right Wing has long placed too high a value on property rights and too low a value on human rights.  The moral critique that the United States society needs to value people more than things has remained as valid as it was on April 4, 1967, when a modern-day prophet, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., uttered it in the Riverside Church, New York, New York.  The Right Wing detested him and suspected him of communism, too.

As Michael Eric Dyson correctly argues, the version of Martin Luther King, Jr., many White conservatives find non-threatening is a historical fiction.  King’s radicalism offers a stinging critique of many current conservative talking points.  King’s radicalism still comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

The teachings of Jesus continue to comfort and afflict simultaneously.  Loving enemies, for example, breaks the cycle of violence.  But hearing that we should love our enemies may afflict us.  Condemnations of hypocrisy apply to everyone, too.  Jesus continues to meddle in our business, as he ought to do.  We want God to comfort us and people similar to ourselves, but to smite “those people”–everyone else, those whom we have othered.  God loves them, too, of course.

As Christians we believe that what Jesus began with the call of the Twelve and the sharp-edged teaching of blessings and curses remains in force today.  This is the shape of the kingdom:  the kingdom which still today turns the world upside down, or perhaps the right way up, as much as it ever did.

–N. T. Wright, Advent for Everyone:  Luke–A Daily Devotional (2018), 17

The world is upside down when it ought to be right side up.  Are you, O reader, complicit in maintaining this disorder?  If so, the teachings of Jesus afflict you, as they should.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS (TRANSFERRED)

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Followers of Jesus   4 comments

Above:  Icon of the Ministry of the Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XV

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Luke 6:12-19; 10:1-24

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INTRODUCTION

Jesus had many disciples.  There were, for example the Twelve apostles (6:13), literally, persons sent out.  May we not forget the seventy(-two) disciples he sent out in 10:1-24.

Some numbers were simultaneously literal and symbolic:

  1. Twelve symbolized the restoration of Israel.  There had been twelve tribes of Israel, with ten of them lost to assimilation.  The Twelve apostles were the nucleus of the new people of God.
  2. Seventy or seventy-two (depending on the manuscript of the Gospel of Luke one believes) calls back to Numbers 11:16, 25.  One may recall the story.  Moses had selected seventy elders with whom to share his burden of leadership.  The spirit of God had fallen upon the seventy elders plus two other men.  According to Luke 10:1-24, Jesus was the new Moses, and his seventy or seventy-two other disciples helped to lead the new exodus.

We have encountered the the themes of exile and exodus in Luke-Acts already.  Was the ministry of Jesus an exodus?  Was living under Roman occupation a form of exile?

Think about it, O reader.

THE TWELVE

Comparing the names of the Twelve, according to the canonical Gospels, yields superficially different names in some lists:

  1. The Synoptic tradition lists St. Bartholomew; the Johannine tradition lists St. Nathanael.
  2. Tradition associates St. Matthew Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27f), as the same man, but both “Bartholomew” and “Matthew” mean “gift of God.”
  3. Tradition associates St. Bartholomew with St. Nathanael, as the same man.
  4. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark list St. Thaddeus.  The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles list St. Judas, son of James, instead.

None of this disturbs me; a person can have more than one name.  In the New Testament alone, I point to some examples:

  1. St. Simon (Peter), a.k.a. Cephas;
  2. St. (Joseph) Barnabas;
  3. St. (John) Mark; and
  4. (Joseph) Barsabbas, who nearly filled the vacancy Judas Iscariot left.

The scholarly debate whether the Twelve were literally twelve in number marginally interests me.  Besides, the burden of proof is on those who argue that the Twelve consisted of more than twelve men.  I prefer to shave with Ockham’s Razor.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Luke 10:1-16 and 10:17-20 bear a striking similarity to Luke 9:1-6 and 9:10.

“…the kingdom of God is very near to you.”

–Luke 9:9b, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

In other words, the partially-realized Kingdom of God is present.  The fully-realized Kingdom of God remains in the future tense, at least from a human perspective.  According to Realized Eschatology, the Kingdom of God does not arrive; it is.  Given that God exists outside of time, so does the Kingdom of God.  Certain events make the reality of the Kingdom of God more apparent and, in so doing, up the ante.  Consider the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  Upping the ante increases the consequences for rejection and heightens responsibility.  Grace is free, not cheap.  One has a responsibility to respond favorably to grace, which imposes demands.

MY COMPLEX FAITH

I have asked myself a hypothetical question:  Would I have followed Jesus if I had met him in person during his earthly life?  I have concluded that I do not know.  Hypothetically, I may have found him objectionable, given my hypothetical attachment to certain “received wisdom.”  Or, hypothetically, I may have been receptive to Jesus’s teachings.

I wonder because I am a complex human being.  My faith is complex, not simple.  On one hand, I have a rebellious streak a mile wide, so to speak.  I delight in poking my proverbial fingers into the equally proverbial eyes of authority figures.  They have it coming!  I am, obviously, neither an authoritarian, a conservative, nor a likely member of any cult.  However, I balance my rebelliousness with a healthy respect for order.  Rebellion must serve a constructive purpose; it must resist and hopefully destroy an unjust social and political order.  This is why Luke-Acts and Revelation appeal to me; they speak of God turning the upside-down social order right side-up.  The unjust human order must fall before the divine order can commence.

As I age, I simultaneously moderate and become more radical.  My theological approach moderates; I remain a liberal yet have moved slightly to the right.  Yet, as I continue to study the Bible and internalize its ethics and morals (read in historical and cultural contexts, of course), the more dissatisfied I become with the human order and the Religious Right (of whom I have never been a fan).  The radicalism of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus appeals to me.

So, I wonder how I, hypothetically, would have responded to Jesus in person.  I question whether I would have favored order and routine or whether I would have supported the creative destruction God brings.

I invite you, O reader, to ask yourself the same question and to answer it honestly.  Then take the result of that spiritual self-examination to God.

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF FAITH

I, as a Christian at the end of 2021, owe much to the earliest followers of Jesus.  I stand on their shoulders.  My faith exists in part because of their faith.

How many people will stand your shoulders of faith, O reader?  How many will stand on mine?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST (TRANSFERRED)

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Scandalous Sabbath Activities   1 comment

Above:  Christ Healing the Man with a Withered Hand

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XIV

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Luke 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6

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INTRODUCTION

The Gospel of Luke tells four stories (6:1-5; 6:6-11; 13:10-17; and 14:1-6) pertaining to scandalous activities on the Sabbath.  For the sake of not repeating myself more often than necessary; I combine the material for all three stories in this post.

The Sabbath is a gift.  It is a mark of freedom.  (Hebrew slaves in Egypt had no days off.)  To keep the Sabbath is to live in freedom and to imitate God.  The Sabbath reminds us that we do not need to be  productive every day of the week.  The Sabbath should inspire joy.  Why, then, do so many people transform it into an occasion of boredom and misery?  I leave the answer to that question to you, O reader.

Also, ancient diagnoses were unreliable much of the time.  Possession does not cause a person’s crippled state, a condition with other origins.

6:1-5

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 permits someone to enter another person’s field and to pluck ears of grain, provided that one does not use a sickle.  The Law of Moses also considers reaping and sowing forms of work forbidden on the Sabbath.

We read that some of Christ’s disciples followed the provisions of Deuteronomy 23:24-25, but did so on the Sabbath.  We also read that, in their defense, Jesus cited the example of David (1 Samuel 21:1-6).  The defense Jesus offered, we read, is that, if David had the authority to overturn Levitical rules when he and his companions were hungry, so did Christ and his disciples, for the same reason.

6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6

According to later rabbinic tradition, the only healing permitted on the Sabbath was that which spared a life.  The man with a withered hand was not in a life-threatening situation.  Neither were the crippled woman and the man with dropsy.  Jesus insisted that the Sabbath is a day to perform good deeds.

The combination of these three healing stories points to the universalism of Christ’s message.  A withered hand.  Eighteen years of being crippled and bent over.  Dropsy.  One woman.  Two men.  The Gospel of Luke casts a large and inclusive net.

AVOIDING STEREOTYPES AND GRASPING THE TRUTH

The Law of Moses is a complex code.  Obeying one provision may require a violation of another one sometimes.  Therefore, one must rank priorities.  We read that, in Jesus, satisfying hunger and helping other people outranked a hypothetical standard.  Ideals are necessary, but people live in reality, not hypothetical scenarios.

Jewish tradition before and during the time of Jesus understood the ranking of commandments in conflict with each other.  (Modern Judaism still does, too.)  In the First Book of the Maccabees, the Hasmoneans–sticklers for the Law of Moses–waged combat on the Sabbath more than once.  They reasoned that not waging defensive combat on the Sabbath as necessary would contribute to the failure of their cause, which they carried on in the names of God and the Law of Moses.  In the Gospels, Jesus mentioned Pharisaic exceptions to Sabbath-keeping.

So, what was really going in these stories?  Why were critics of Jesus and his disciples unjustly critical?  I posit that Jesus and his disciples threatened the traditional understandings of what was orthodox and proper.  As I keep repeating ad nauseum, O reader, heaping scorn upon long-dead scribes and Pharisees is easy.  Doing so is part of a self-righteous effort if one is not careful.  Examining oneself for undue rigidity is another matter–and a vital one.

I reject Gentile stereotypes of Judaism.  (I grew up with them.)  These are traditional misunderstandings born of ignorance, not malice.  Yet the often feed malice, at worst.  At best, these stereotypes lead to misunderstanding certain Bible stories.

Nevertheless, legalistic people have always existed.  Some otherwise commendable pushing back against stereotypes of Judaism have ignored or minimized this point.  I have chosen to eschew stereotypes and false, easy answers, in favor of recognizing reality.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST (TRANSFERRED)

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Posted December 28, 2021 by neatnik2009 in 1 Samuel 21, Deuteronomy 23, Luke 13, Luke 14, Luke 6

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Introduction to Luke-Acts   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Luke the Evangelist

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART I

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The whole of Luke’s gospel is about the way in which the living God has planted, in Jesus, the seed of that long-awaited hope in the world.

–N. T. Wright, Lent for Everyone:  Luke, Year C–A Daily Devotional (2009), 2

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The Gospel of Luke is the first volume of a larger work.  The Acts of the Apostles is the second volume.  One can read either volume spiritually profitably in isolation from the other one.  However, one derives more benefit from reading Luke-Acts as the two-volume work it is.

Each of the four canonical Gospels bears the name of its traditional author.  The Gospel of Luke is the only case in which I take this traditional authorship seriously as a matter of history.  One may recall that St. Luke was a well-educated Gentile physician and a traveling companion of St. Paul the Apostle.

Luke-Acts dates to circa 85 C.E.,. “give or take five to ten years,” as Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) wrote in his magisterial An Introduction to the New Testament (1997).  Luke-Acts, having a Gentile author, includes evidence that the audience consisted of Gentiles, too.  The text makes numerous references to the inclusion of Gentiles, for example.  Two of the major themes in Luke-Acts are (a) reversal of fortune, and (b) the conflict between the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God.  The smoldering ruins of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 C.E. inform the present tense of the story-telling.

Many North American Christians minimize or ignore the imperial politics in the New Testament.  In doing so, they overlook essential historical and cultural contexts.  Luke-Acts, in particular, performs an intriguing political dance with the Roman Empire.  The two-volume work unambiguously proclaims Jesus over the Emperor–a treasonous message, by Roman imperial standards.  Luke-Acts makes clear that the Roman Empire was on the wrong side of God, that its values were opposite those of the Kingdom of God.  Yet the two-volume work goes out of its way to mention honorable imperial officials.

Know six essential facts about me, O reader:

  1. This weblog is contains other blog posts covering Luke-Acts, but in the context of lectionaries.  I refer you to those posts.  And I will not attempt to replicate those other posts in the new posts.  Finding those posts is easy; check the category for the book and chapter, such as Luke 1 or Acts 28.
  2. I know far more about the four canonical Gospels, especially in relation to each other, than I will mention in the succeeding posts.  I tell you this not to boast, but to try to head off anyone who may chime in with a rejoinder irrelevant to my purpose in any given post.  My strategy will be to remain on topic.
  3. My purpose will be to analyze the material in a way that is intellectually honest and applicable in real life.  I respect Biblical scholarship that goes deep into the woods, spending ten pages on three lines.  I consult works of such scholarship.  However, I leave that work to people with Ph.Ds in germane fields and who write commentaries.
  4. I am a student of the Bible, not a scholar thereof.
  5. I am a left-of-center Episcopalian who places a high value on human reason and intellect.  I value history and science.  I reject both the inerrancy and the infallibility of scripture for these reasons.  Fundamentalists think I am going to Hell for asking too many questions.  I try please God, not fundamentalists. I know too much to affirm certain theological statements.
  6. I am a sui generis mix of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican theological influences.  I consider St. Mary of Nazareth to be the Theotokos (the Bearer of God) and the Mater Dei (the Mother of God).  I also reject the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception with it.

Make of all this whatever you will, O reader.

Shall we begin our journey through Luke-Acts?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF BATES GILBERT BURT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BENJAMIN TUCKER TANNER, AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL BISHOP AND RENEWER OF SOCIETY

THE FEAST OF D. ELTON TRUEBLOOD, U.S. QUAKER THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHANN CHRISTOPH SCHWEDLER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MICHAL PIASCZYNSKI,POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940

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Deeds and Creeds VII   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART III

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James 2:1-26

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Do not rob the poor because they are poor,

nor crush the needy at the gate;

For the LORD will defend their cause,

and will plunder those who plunder them.

–Proverbs 22:22-23, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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If I were inclined toward theft, I would steal from the wealthy, not the poor, for the same reason Willie Sutton (1901-1980) robbed banks:

That’s where the money is.

Robbing the poor is counter-productive.  Yet many tax codes do just that; they fall more heavily on the poor than on the wealthy, in percentage of income.  The poor cannot game the system, but the wealthy can.

James 2:1-18 reminds me of Proverbs 22:22-23, which I hear read before James 2:1-18 every Proper 18, Year B, in The Episcopal Church.  Both passages speak of proper and improper attitudes toward the poor.

Do not curry favor with the rich, we read.  James 2:1-13 refers to its context.  One may envision a rich man–a Roman nobleman–clad in a toga and wearing a gold ring.  Only a member of that class had the sight to dress in that way.  Such a man was also seeking political office.  To curry favor with such a man was to seek the benefits he could bestow.

Yet members of the wealthy class also dragged Christians into courts of law.  If the rich man in question was on the bad side of Emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96), the Christian congregation allied with that wealthy man suffered imperial wrath, too.

Recall James 1:27, O reader:  Care for the widows and orphans, and keep oneself uncontaminated from the world.

God has decreed the poor the most valuable people (1 Corinthians 1:27).  Jesus taught that the poor will inherit the Kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).  The Gospels teach that the first will be last, the last will be first, and those serve are the greatest.  God disregards and contradicts human social hierarchies.

The audience of the Epistle of James consisted of Jewish Christians, marginalized within their Jewish tradition.  They knew about the Law of Moses and its ethical demand to take care of the less fortunate.  Apparently, some members of that audience had not acted in accordance with those common commandments.

St. Paul the Apostle addressed Gentiles.  The author of the Epistle of James addressed Jews.  St. Paul understood faith and works to be a package deal, hence justification by faith.  The author of the Epistle of James used “faith” narrowly, to refer to intellectual assent.  Therefore, he wrote of justification by works.  These two authors arrived at the same point after departing from different origins.  They both affirmed the importance of faithful actions.

We read of two scriptural examples–the near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) and the hospitality of Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1-23).  I stand by my criticism of Abraham in Genesis 22.  I refer you, O reader, to follow the germane tags, if you are inclined to do so.

None of that detracts from the summary of the faith-works case in the Epistle of James:

So just as the body without a spirit is dead, so faith is dead without deeds.

–2:26, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

That theme continues, in another context, in the next chapter.

The allure of status is strong; even Christians are not necessarily immune to its appeal.  The ultimate status that really matters, though, is heir of God.  No earthly political power has any say over that status.  Another germane status is bearer of the image of God.  All people hold that status inherently.  If we really believe that, we will treat each other accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Oracles of Divine Punishment, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Micah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MICAH, PART III

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Micah 2:1-13

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The more I read commentaries, the more I realize how frequently wordplay occurs in the Hebrew Bible.  Puns to not translate from Language A into Language B, of course.  Given my fondness for puns, these details appeal to me.  Consider Micah 2:1-3, O reader.  Powerful and corrupt people design or work (depending on translation) evil/evil deeds/evil and wicked deeds (depending on translation).  God plans misfortune/evil/disaster (depending on translation) in retribution.

The human evil in 2:1-3 consisted of flagrant violations of the Law of Moses.  These wealthy, powerful, and corrupt evildoers were coveting and seizing the fields and homes of peasants.  These greedy, already-wealthy people enriched themselves further at the expense of the less fortunate.  These terrible human beings, who had sinned against God and those they had defrauded, had judged and condemned themselves.  The Assyrians were about to swallow the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  Those greedy, corrupt, and powerful defrauders would lose everything then.  This text, applied to a later period and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, condemned greedy, powerful, and corrupt defrauders in the south.  They would lose everything when the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire took over.

These situations remind me of the Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20-26) from the Sermon on the Plain.  This is the passage in which Jesus says that the poor–not the poor in spirit–the poor will receive the Kingdom of God.  The translation of Luke 6:24 in The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) fits in with standard English-language versions of this verse.

But woe to you who are rich,

for you have received your consolation.

The Greek text can also mean:

But woe to you who are rich,

for you are receiving your consolation.

The wealthy, corrupt, and powerful defrauders of Micah 2 (regardless of timeframe)–before the Fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.E. or after 722 B.C.E. and before the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.–received their consolations.  Then the Assyrians or the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians took that consolation from them.

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  In the case of Micah 2:1-11, divine mercy on the oppressed constituted judgment on the oppressors, who did not want to hear the words of divine judgment.

Micah 2:12-13 refers to the return from the Babylonian Exile.  Were these two verses original to Micah?  They may have come from a subsequent period.  Evidence of editors’ handiwork exists in the final version of the Book of Micah.  The main idea, whenever someone wrote 2:12-13, holds:  divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.

Micah 2:13 is ambiguous about the identity of the king.  Is he human, certainly of the House of David?  Or is God the king?  Exegetes disagree.  Study Bibles I consulted did not indicate a consensus position.

Micah 2 is unambiguous on another point, however:  God will not tolerate injustice.  The Book of Micah highlights economic injustice.  I live in a society in which the chasm separating the rich from the poor has been growing wider for decades.  In this context, I read Micah 2 and tremble.  Divine punishment assumes many forms, all of them unpleasant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 25, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BEDE OF JARROW, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND FATHER OF ENGLISH HISTORY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALDHELM OF SHERBORNE, POET, LITERARY SCHOLAR, ABBOT OF MALMESBURY, AND BISHOP OF SHERBORNE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CRISTOBAL MAGOLLANES JARA AND AGUSTIN CALOCA CORTÉS, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF SAINT MADELEINE-SOPHIE BARAT, FOUNDRESS OF THE SOCIETY OF THE SACRED HEART; AND SAINT ROSE PHILIPPINE DUCHESNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT MYKOLA TSEHELSKYI, UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1951

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False Significance and True Significance   Leave a comment

THE QUEST FOR FALSE SIGNIFICANCE IS A FORM OF IDOLATRY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two stories from 1 Maccabees pertain to my theme.  

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Wealth as an Idol   1 comment

Above:  Ancient City of Laodicea

Image Source = Google Earth

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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 8:1-13 or Acts 26:1, 9-23, 27-29, 31-32

Psalm 132:1-5, 11-18

Revelation 3:14-22

John 8:31-47

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Laodicea was a wealthy city, a center of the refining of gold, the manufacture of garments, and the manufacture of a popular salve for eyes.  The church in that city was also wealthy, not on Christ.  Jesus said to keep his commandments.  St. Paul the Apostle relied on Christ.

As I have written many times, deeds reveal creeds.  To quote Proverbs, as a man thinks, he is.  And as one thinks, one does.  God is like what God had done and does, in Jewish theology.  Likewise, we are like what we have done and do.

Are we like the Laodicean congregation?  Are we lukewarm?  Are we comfortable, resting on our own laurels and means?  Do we have the luxury of being that way?  (FYI:  “We” can refer either to congregations or to individuals.)

Wealth is not the problem.  No, wealth is morally neutral.  Relationships to wealth are not morally neutral.  To the extent that a person or a congregation may rely on wealth, not God, one makes wealth an idol.

There was once a man who owned a large tract of land.  He enjoyed boasting about how much land he owned.  One day, the landowner was bragging to another man:

I can get in my truck early in the morning and start driving around the edge of my property.  Late in the day, I haven’t gotten home yet.

The other man replied,

I used to have a truck like that, too.

The Bible burst the proverbial balloons of those who trust in their wealth, not in God.  Aside from Revelation 3:14-22, one may think readily of the Gospel of Luke and various Hebrew prophets, for example.  One may also quote 1 Timothy 6:10 (The Jerusalem Bible, 1966):

The love of money is the root of all evils and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith, and so given their souls to any number of fatal wounds.

One may also quote Luke 6, in which the poor are blessed (verse 20), but the rich are having their consolation now (verse 24).

Wealth is morally neutral.  Relationships to it are not.  May we always trust in God and acknowledge our duties to one another, in mutuality, under God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MIROCLES OF MILAN AND EPIPHANIUS OF PAVIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ALBAN ROE AND THOMAS REYNOLDS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1642

THE FEAST OF EDGAR J. GOODSPEED, U.S. BAPTIST BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN YI YON-ON, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN KOREA, 1867

THE FEAST OF W. SIBLEY TOWNER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/21/devotion-for-proper-16-year-d-humes/

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Economic Justice and Fundamental Neighborliness   Leave a comment

Above:  Lazarus ad the Rich Man, by Frans Francken the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First 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, the Strength of all them that put their trust in thee;

mercifully accept our prayers;

and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do good thing without thee,

grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping thy commandments,

we may please thee, both in will and deed;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 184

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Isaiah 41:1-18

Psalm 103

Acts 2:42-47

Luke 16:19-31

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Several themes paly out in the four assigned readings.  These include:

  1. The sovereignty of God,
  2. The persistence of idolatry,
  3. The imperative of repentance, and
  4. Mutuality in faith community.

However, the nearly unifying theme is the divine mandate of economic justice.  God does not forsake the poor and the needy who seek water and find none (Isaiah 41:17).  We read in Acts 2:42-47 that the earliest members of the church in Jerusalem took care of each other economically.  And we read that the rich man in the parable in Luke 16:19-31 did not care about the poor man at his gates.

Various Hebrew prophets condemned the exploitation of the poor.  We read more about the Lukan theme of reversal of fortune in Luke 6:20b-21, 24-26:

Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be filled.

Blessed are you who are weeping now, for you shall laugh….

But alas for you who are rich, for you are having your consolation now.

Alas for you who have plenty to eat now, for you shall go hungry.

Alas for you who are laughing now, for you shall mourn and weep.

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

The problem with wealth in the parable was the rich man’s attachment to it, paired with his lack of compassion.  He exhibited signs of conspicuous consumption in a society with a gaping class divide and a majority population that was impoverished.   This rich man could have afforded to act on behalf of the poor at his gate, at least.  Even in death, he still thought of the poor man as a servant, at best.

The rich man’s attachment to wealth and his willful obliviousness to the plight of the poor man at his gate were forms of idolatry.  George Buttrick diagnosed the rich man’s root sin as a lack of “fundamental neighborliness” in 1928.

Economic justice is a manifestation of “fundamental neighborliness.”  God commands it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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

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

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL PREISWERK, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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The Divine Preference for the Poor, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parish Soup Kitchen, by George Elgar Hicks

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday Before Lent, 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 Lord, we beseech thee favorably to hear the prayers of thy people;

that we, who are justly punished for our offenses,

may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name;

though Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord,

who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,

ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 136

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Ezekiel 3:4-11

Psalm 86

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Matthew 5:1-16

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Some people are hopelessly stubborn; they refuse to heed wisdom.  They persist in telling God and those who speak for God to go fly a kite, so to speak.  They persist in behavior that harms even members of their community and congregation.

Taking the Holy Eucharist improperly has long been a topic for theologians and denominations.  Many of them have resorted to an excessive, Donatistic emphasis on doctrine as the litmus test for partaking of that sacrament.  Some still do.  I, as an Episcopalian, am, according to some denominations with congregations in my town, one of the theologically and doctrinally impure.  Therefore, if I were, theoretically, to take communion in any of those denominations, I would violate the rule of closed communion.  I favor open communion.  That is how “impure” I am.

The issue in Corinth had a particular context.  The Eucharist was still a communal meal in a house church.  Members of the congregation came from a variety of economic backgrounds.  Poorer members depended partially on food wealthier members provided.  Denying those vulnerable members of the church what they needed was wrong.  So was mistaking the Eucharist for an opportunity to drink too much.

The lectionary committee’s choice to schedule the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 was odd.  The Beatitudes and Woes from Luke 6 would have been better.  “Blessed are you who are poor” would have fit better than “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

The poor are always with us.  A combination of factors, from sound economic policy to good decisions, can raise many of them out of poverty.  Yet, even under the best of circumstances in the human order, the poor will always be with us.  Helping them is the wise, ethical course.  Blaming and scorning them is not.  Neither is criminalizing poverty, another matter of policy.

I write this post during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The economic damage of that virus is severe.  May governments and other institutions play their part in doing what they can–rebuilding systems and infrastructures so that the opportunities for the economically devastated to lead better lives will exist.  May the post-COVID-19 economic order be just.  And may we, as individuals, do what we can.  May we have proper attitudes, with actions to match.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF LUKE OF PRAGUE AND JOHN AUGUSTA, MORAVIAN BISHOPS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT KAZIMIERZ TOMASZ SYKULSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF LARS OLSEN SKREFSRUD, HANS PETER BOERRESEN, AND PAUL OLAF BODDING, LUTHERAN MISSIONARIES IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF MARYRS OF EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR, DECEMBER 11-12, 1981

THE FEAST OF SAINT SEVERIN OTT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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