Archive for the ‘Matthew 5’ Category

The Golden Rule and Other Timeless Principles   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without unconditional, sacrificial love are worth nothing.

Send your Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,

the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without whosoever lives is counted dead before you.

Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 86

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Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

Psalm 47

Ephesians 4:17-32

Luke 10:25-37

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God is the King, Psalm 47 reminds us.  Furthermore, the text states, all nations should acknowledge this reality.  Not only is this true, but so are the following statements:

  1. We depend on God for everything.
  2. We depend on each other.
  3. We are responsible for each other.
  4. We are responsible to each other.
  5. We are interdependent and dependent, not independent.
  6. We have no moral right to exploit one another.
  7. How we treat each other matters.
  8. Piety (or at least the appearance thereof) does not justify not helping each other.

Those statements, taken together, summarize the readings from Leviticus 19, Ephesians 4, and Luke 10 well.  To that list of statements I add another:  The identity of those who help us might prove so surprising as to be scandalous to many.

I notice the selective reading from Leviticus 19.  I have no desire to insult the deaf or to place a stumbling block before the blind, for example, so verse 14 does not disturb me.  Many other omitted verses also prompt me to respond with, “Of course that is a fine law.”  Some of them are timeless principles, but others are culturally specific examples of such principles.  The particulars of verses 9 and 10 might not apply at all times and in all places, but the commandment to provide for the poor remains.  I note, however, that verses 20-22 allow for slavery.  Furthermore, the wardrobe prohibition in verse 19 applies neither to priestly vestments (see Exodus 28:6 and 39:29) nor forbids mandatory fringes on Israelite clothing (see Numbers 15:37-40).  The wording of certain passages of the Law of Moses, taken out of context, makes those passages seem more cut-and-dried than they really are.

Biblical interpretation is a frequently complicated and subtle enterprise.  So as to avoid becoming lost in the proverbial forest and slipping into legalism, I side with the tradition of Rabbi Hillel:

That which is deplorable to you, do not do to your fellow; this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary; go and learn it.

We read in Matthew 5:17-20 that Jesus came to fulfill, not to abolish, the law.  The critique of scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew is that they do not keep the law properly.  We also read the following in Matthew 7:12:

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That is the Golden Rule.  It means no slavery, does it not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 4, 2017 COMMON ERA

LABOR DAY (U.S.A.)

THE FEAST OF PAUL JONES, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF UTAH AND PEACE ACTIVIST; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, JOHN NEVIN SAYRE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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A Light to the Nations VI   Leave a comment

Above:  Pottery Oil Lamp

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-12216

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

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Lord, you see that all hearts are empty unless you fill them,

and that all desires are balked unless they crave for you.

Give us light and grace to seek and find you, that you may be ours forever.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 85

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Isaiah 49:8-13

Psalm 10

Ephesians 2:11-18

Matthew 5:14-20

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These readings mesh especially well.  They also return to the familiar theme of being a light to the nations.

Psalm 10 asks why God stands at a distance while, as the New American Bible states the matter,

Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor;

they trap them by their cunning schemes.

–Verse 2

This is a timeless question.  Today, as in Psalm 10, the wicked crouch and lurk (figuratively, of course), with the purpose of ambushing and trapping the poor.  The reference to that pose is a literary allusion to Genesis 4:7, in which sin crouches and lurks at the door.  The author of Psalm 10 concludes on a note of confidence in God, but one might wonder how sincerely.  One could just as well speak the last several verses sarcastically; that would fit well with the rest of the psalm.

Isaiah 49:8-13, set in the context of the return from the Babylonian Exile, seems to answer the author of Psalm 10.  Gentile monarchs and nobles will revere God, who has taken back His afflicted ones in love.  God will act and keep faith, or hesed, with the afflicted.  God will be the light that attracts Gentiles to Himself.  Therefore, as in Ephesians 2, in Christ artificial barriers, such as those that separate Jews from Gentiles, cease to exist.  As we know from scriptures I have covered in previous posts in this series, Jews and faithful Gentiles are the Chosen People together.

That is so, but this reality does not change the fact that many people who consider themselves faithful prefer to preserve categories that Jesus erases.  My best guess is that these individuals labor under the incorrect impression of what divinely approved categories are and what merely human categories are.  Each of us who call ourselves faithful are guilty of this offense to some degree.

As Matthew 5:14-20 reminds us, we are the light of the world.  Yet many of us hide or misdirect our light.  We have an obligation to shed the light on God, for the sake of divine glory.  We ought to be the polar opposite of the oppressors in Psalm 10.  They boast in their greed and deny that, if God exists, He does not care.  (See Psalms 14 and 53 about that point.)  They seem to be amoral.  They shine their light on themselves, to their glory, such as it is.

God does care–quite deeply, of course.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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Psalms 56-58   2 comments

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POST XXI OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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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 everlasting 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 226

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The righteous man will rejoice when he sees revenge;

he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.

Men will say,

“There is, then, a reward for the righteous;

there is, indeed, divine justice on the earth.”

–Psalm 58:11-12, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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So much for loving one’s enemies and praying for one’s enemies!

“You have heard that they were told, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’  But what I tell you is this:  Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so you can be children of your heavenly Father, who causes the sun to rise on the good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the innocent and the wicked.  If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect?  Even the tax-collectors do as much as that.  If you greet only your brothers, what is there extraordinary about that?  Even the heathen do as much.  There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.”

–Matthew 5:43-48, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The vengeful tone of Psalm 58 troubles me.  It is inconsistent with the highest ideals of Judaism (such as healing the world) and with the ethics of Jesus of Nazareth, who forgave those who had him crucified and who consented to his crucifixion (Luke 23:24).  I argue with the author of Psalm 58; the righteous man grieves when he sees vengeance and rejoices when he witnesses reconciliation and repentance.  After all, revenge is not justice.  This seems to be a point lost on the upset martyrs in Heaven in Revelation 6:9-11.

Consider, O reader, Psalm 57, allegedly of David after having fled from King Saul, who was trying repeatedly to kill him.  The superscription refers to a story of which two versions–in 1 Samuel 24 and 26–exist, thanks to the reality of multiple sources edited together into one narrative.  In both versions of the story David, who has the opportunity to kill Saul, spares the monarch’s life instead and lets him know it.  David refuses to take revenge, even though his magnanimity continues to place his life at great risk.

A note regarding Psalm 56 in Volume IV (1996) of The New Interpreter’s Bible makes a wonderful point.  J. Clinton McCann, Jr., writes that the author of that psalm

professes that true security is a divine gift rather than a human achievement.  The fundamental mistake of the wicked is their belief that they can make it on their own, that they can find hope in exploiting others (v. 6; see Isa. 47:10).  The psalmist knows better.  Because security is ultimately a gift from God, no human action can take it away.

–Page 902

The true security from God is a form of security that the world does not recognize as security at all.  Indeed, many of the faithful (as in Revelation 6:9-11) have difficulty seeing it for what it is.  Who can blame them?  This is, after all, counter-intuitive.  This true security is the security of the Jew (whose name has not come down to me) who, during the Holocaust, while having to perform a degrading task as a concentration camp guard taunted him with the question,

Where is your God now?,

answered,

He is here beside me, in the muck.

This is inner security, so no outside human source can take it away.

May we, thusly secure, refrain from seeking revenge.  This is a matter of our character, not that of our enemies.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 11, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THAUMATURGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NEOCAESAREA; AND SAINT ALEXANDER OF COMANA “THE CHARCOAL BURNER,” ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR AND BISHOP OF COMANA, PONTUS

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS MONTAGUE TOPLADY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI, FOUNDER OF THE POOR CLARES

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS LOY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; AND CONRAD HERMANN LOUIS SCHUETTE, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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That Old Sweet Song of Angels   Leave a comment

nativity-and-annunciation-to-the-shepherds

Above:  Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds

Image in the Public Domain

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Long ago the angels vanished–

But their song is sounding still!

Millions now with hope are singing,

“Peace on earth, to men good will.”

Sing, my heart!  Tho’ peace may tarry,

Sing good will mid human strife!

Till that old sweet song of angels

Shall attune to heav’n our life.

–William Allen Knight (1863-1957), “Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It” (1915), quoted in The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935), Hymn #77

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Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is its counterintuitive nature:  a vulnerable baby was God incarnate.  This truth demonstrates the reality that God operates differently than we frequently define as feasible and effective.  Then again, Jesus was, by dominant human expectations, a failure.  I would never claim that Jesus was a failure, of course.

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;

and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;

for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,

and the LORD will reward you.

–Proverbs 25:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Speaking of counterintuitive ways of God, shall we ponder the advice of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 12:14-21?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That old sweet song of angels will not attune to heaven our life if we ignore this sage advice–if we fail to overcome evil with good.  How we treat others indicates more about what kind of people we are than about what kind of people they are.  If we react against intolerance with intolerance, we are intolerant.  We also add fuel to the proverbial fire.  Is not a fire extinguisher better?

As the Master said,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

–Matthew 5:43-48, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Perfection, in this case, indicates suitability for one’s purpose, which is, in the language of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

–Quoted in The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, The Book of Confessions (1967)

As the annual celebration of the birth of Christ approaches again, may we who follow him with our words also follow him with our deeds:  may we strive for shalom on a day-to-day basis.  Only God can save the world, but we can leave it better than we found it.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Loving Our Enemies and Praying for Our Persecutors   1 comment

penitent-magdalene

Above:  Detail from The Penitent Magdalene, by Georges de La Tour

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:

2 Kings 6:8-23

Psalm 57 or 3

Matthew 12:38-50 or Luke 11:24-36

1 Corinthians 5:1-6a (6b-8) 9-13; 6:1-11

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To seek deliverance from enemies and evildoers is understandable and justifiable; to seek revenge against them is understandable and unjustifiable.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

–Matthew 5:43-48, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Perfection, in this case, indicates suitability for one’s tasks and purpose.  We who claim to follow Jesus and hopefully do more than claim to do so have the commandment to live according to love (2 John 5b-6).  If those who are negative influences among us will not change their ways, we may remove them from our faith community (1 Corinthians 5), but that is different from committing or condoning violence against them.  Consider, O reader, the treatment of the Aramean raiders in 2 Kings 6; making them guests at a lavish feast before repatriating them is far from being harsh toward them.

How we treat others–especially enemies and oppressors–is about who we are, not who they are.  We are supposed to be children of light, those who love God and our fellow human beings not because of signs and wonders but because of who God is and because to do so is the right thing to do.  We ought to dwell on a moral plain higher than the lowest common denominator.  This is frequently difficult, but it is possible, via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/devotion-for-proper-9-year-d/

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The Sin of Religious Violence   1 comment

entry-into-jerusalem-giotto

Above:  Entry Into Jerusalem, by Giotto

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:

Deuteronomy 11:1-17 or Isaiah 43:8-15

Psalm 94 or 35

John 8:48-59

Romans 1:8-15 (16-17) 18-32; 2:1-11 or Galatians 6:1-6 (7-16) 17-18

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Accuse my accuser of Yahweh,

attack my attackers.

–Psalm 35:1, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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That verse summarizes much of Psalms 35 and 94.  The plea of the persecuted for God to smite their enemies, although understandable and predictable, but it is inconsistent with our Lord and Savior’s commandment to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:43).  Sometimes divine smiting of evildoers is a necessary part of a rescue operation, for some persecutors refuse to repent.  Nevertheless, I suspect that God’s preference is that all people repent of their sins and amend their lives.

We read in Deuteronomy 11 (placed in the mouth of Moses long after his death) of the importance of following divine laws–or else.  Then, in Isaiah 43, set in the latter phase of the Babylonian Exile, which, according to the Biblical narrative, resulted from failure to obey that law code, we read of impending deliverance by God from enemies.  Both readings remind us of what God has done for the Hebrews out of grace.  Grace, although free, is never cheap, for it requires a faithful response to God.  We are free in God to serve God, not be slaves to sin.  We are free in God to live as vehicles of grace, not to indulge inappropriate appetites.  We are free in God to lay aside illusions of righteousness, to express our penitence, and to turn our backs on–to repent of–our sins.

This is a devotion for Palm Sunday.  We read in John 8 that some Jews at Jerusalem sought to stone Jesus as a blasphemer (verse 59).  I suppose that they thought they were acting in accordance with Leviticus 24:10-23.  Later in the Fourth Gospel (Chapters 18 and 19) certain religious authority figures are complicit in his death–as a scapegoat (11:47-53).

This desire to kill those who offend our religious sensibilities strongly is dangerous for everyone.  It is certainly perilous for those who suffer because of it.  Furthermore, such violence causes spiritual harm to those who commit it.  And what if one’s judgment is wrong?  One has committed a most serious offense before God.  This tendency toward religious violence exists in various traditions, has a shameful past and an inexcusable present reality, and does nothing inherently to glorify God.  In fact, it detracts from the glory of God.  That God can work through such abominations committed in His name testifies to divine sovereignty.  Exhibit A is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 10, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN NITSCHMANN, SR., MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; DAVID NITSCHMANN, JR., THE SYNDIC, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND DAVID NITSCHMANN, THE MARTYR, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF CECIL FRANCES ALEXANDER, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN LUDWIG BRAU, NORWEGIAN MORAVIAN TEACHER AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD OF LUCCA; AND JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/devotion-for-palm-sunday-year-d/

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Limitless Goodness   1 comment

Icon of Ezekiel

Above:   Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,

without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy.

Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide,

we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 11:14-25 (Monday)

Ezekiel 39:21-40:4 (Tuesday)

Ezekiel 43:1-12 (Wednesday)

Psalm 141 (All Days)

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (Monday)

1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 (Tuesday)

Matthew 23:37-24:14 (Wednesday)

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But my eyes are turned to you, Lord GOD;

in you I take refuge;

do not strip me of my life.

–Psalm 141:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading from Matthew is apocalyptic and Psalm 141 is also bleak.  These texts come from difficult times.  Oppressed people pray for God to destroy their enemies.  The textual context in Matthew is the impending crucifixion of Jesus.  From the perspective of the composition of the Gospel itself, however, there is wrestling with fading expectations of Christ’s imminent Second Coming.  One also detects echoes of reality for Matthew’s audience, contending with persecution (or the threat thereof) and conflict with non-Christian Jews.

We read of mercy following judgment in Ezekiel 11, 39, 40, and 43.  Punishment for societal sins will ensue, but so will restoration.  In the end, God’s Presence returns to Jerusalem, which it departed in Chapters 10 and 11.

Those sins included not only idolatry but judicial corruption and economic injustice, which, of course, hurt the poor the most.  Not seeking the common good violated the Law of Moses.  Seeking the common good defined the assigned readings from Ephesians and 1 Corinthians.

“Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial.  “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds up.  No one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor.

–1 Corinthians 10:23-24, The New American Bible (1991)

We also read, in the context of how we treat each other:

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, for that Spirit is the seal with which you were marked for the day of final liberation.

–Ephesians 4:30, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Those are fine guiding principles.  Some of the details in their vicinity in the texts might not apply to your circumstances, O reader, but such lists are not comprehensive and some examples are specific to cultures and settings.  Timeless principles transcend circumstances and invite us to apply them when and where we are.  May we live them in love of God and our fellow human beings, daring even to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48).  That is a difficult standard to meet, but it is possible via grace.

There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.

–Matthew 5:48, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-28-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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