Archive for the ‘Matthew 5’ Category

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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Nobility and Love   1 comment

Vegetables

Above:  Vegetables

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace those who are humble.

Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody

the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 15:13-17 (Thursday)

Proverbs 18:6-12 (Friday)

Psalm 112 (Both Days)

1 Peter 3:8-12 (Thursday)

1 Peter 4:7-11 (Friday)

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How blessed is anyone who fears Yahweh,

who delights in his commandments!

–Psalm 112:1, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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These days’ readings, taken together, extol humility, love, and recognition of complete dependence upon God.  As one saying from Proverbs states eloquently,

Better a meal of vegetables where there is love

Than a flattened ox where there is hate.

–15:17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Like unto that is the commandment to

maintain constant love for one another

–1 Peter 4:8a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989),

which is consistent with the ethic of human responsibilities to and for each other, as in the Law of Moses.

Pride (hubris) goes before the fall.  Humility is frequently difficult also, but it is the better path.  Yes, each of us bears the image of God, but each of us also carries an imperfect nature.  Depravity is not even an article of faith for me, for I have evidence for it, and therefore require no faith to recognize the reality of it.  Nevertheless, as I heard growing up, God did not make any garbage.  Yes, we humans are equally capable of both nobility and depravity, of love and of death.  May we, by grace, succeed more often than not in following the paths of nobility and love.

St. Paul the Apostle offered timeless wisdom in his Letter to the Romans:

Never pay back evil for evil.  Let your aims be such as all count honourable.  If possible, so far as it lies with you, live at peace with all.  My dear friends, do not seek revenge, but leave a place for divine retribution; for there is a text which reads, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.”  But there is another text:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; by doing so you will heap live coals on his head.”  Do not let evil conquer you, but use good to conquer evil.

–12:17-21, The Revised English Bible (1989)

That passage cites Leviticus 19:18 and Proverbs 25:21-22.  It is also compatible with Matthew 5:43-48.

St. Paul summarized an essential part of Christian ethics better than my capacity to paraphrase it.  For that reason I leave you, O reader, with those noble words.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 24, 2016 COMMON ERA

MAUNDY THURSDAY

THE FEAST OF THOMAS ATTWOOD, “FATHER OF MODERN CHURCH MUSIC”

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIDACUS JOSEPH OF CADIZ, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF OSCAR ROMERO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF SAN SALVADOR, AND THE MARTYRS OF EL SALVADOR

THE FEAST OF PAUL COUTURIER, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-17-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther VII: Enemies   1 comment

Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Above:  Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 7:7-8:17

Psalm 55:16-23

Matthew 5:43-48

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You, God, will thrust them down

to the abyss of destruction,

men bloodthirsty and deceptive,

before half their days are spent.

–Psalm 55:23, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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In Matthew 5:43-48, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors.  Those instructions contradict the psalm and the designated portion of the Book of Esther.

In the Book of Esther Haman meets his grisly end and King Ahasuerus grants permission to Mordecai and Queen Esther to revoked the first royal edict and order anything (in his name) they deem appropriate.  Ahasuerus remains a figure through whom others govern.  The monarch orders the execution of Haman and his sons and gives his property to Queen Esther.  She and Mordecai write the second royal edict (as contained in Chapter E, as The New American Bible labels it) in the name of Ahasuerus.  They authorize Jews living in the Persian Empire to attack their (the Jews’) enemies.  Mordecai receives special honors, and, throughout the empire, Jews rejoice and their enemies do not.

How much of this is justice and how much is revenge?  In the Law of Moses the penalty for perjury to convict someone falsely is symmetrical:

If the man who testified is a false witness, if he has testified falsely against his fellow, you shall do to him as he schemed to do to his fellow.  Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst; others will hear and be afraid, and such evil things will not again be done in your midst.  Nor must you show pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

–Deuteronomy 19:18b-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Nevertheless, there is a difference between justice and revenge.  I grasp the punishment of Haman yet wonder about the bloodbath reported subsequently in the Book of Esther.    “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless in time.

I, as a Christian, read the Bible through what the late Donald Armentrout called the “Gospel glasses.”  The four canonical Gospels contextualize the rest of the Bible for me.  The ethics of Jesus therefore override contradictory texts in my mind.  I am still working on loving my enemies as I understand the distinction between justice and revenge on one hand and revenge and a rescue operation on the other.  Some people will not cease from oppressing because others appeal to their consciences, which might not exist.  Nevertheless, is even necessary violence something to celebrate?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Hospitality and Grace   1 comment

Abraham and the Three Angels--Gustave Dore

Above:  The Prophet Isaiah, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal and all-merciful God,

with all the angels and all the saints we laud your majesty and might.

By the resurrection of your Son, show yourself to us

and inspire us to follow Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 33

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 18:1-8

Psalm 30

Luke 14:12-14

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Genesis 18:1-8 and Luke 14:12-14 offer lessons regarding hospitality and the spirituality thereof.

Hospitality often defined the difference between life and death in Biblical times, as it continues to do.  Extending hospitality was a moral duty, according to Old Testament authors and Jesus.  It was, for them, part of the Law of Love and the web of obligations binding members of society together in mutual responsibility and in interdependence.

In the rural U.S. South in the 1800s it was commonplace for a farmhouse to have a guest room which opened onto the front porch and not into any room.  A traveling stranger might need to spend the night.  That type of accommodation saved the lives of many people.

The two examples of hospitality in the main readings for this day differ from each other.  In Genesis 18 Abraham lavishes hospitality on three men, presumably God and two angels.  We learn that they are present to announce Sarah’s upcoming and most improbable pregnancy.  One might project words from Psalm 30 backward in time and place them into the mouth of Sarah, once she stopped laughing:

You have turned my wailing into dancing;

you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;

O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

–Verses 12 and 13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

The reading from Luke 14 is part of a scene.  Jesus is dining at the home of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath.  Our Lord and Savior heals a man with dropsy in verses 1-6.  Already Christ’s host and the other guests are hostile, for they watch him closely.  Dropsy, aside from being a physical condition, functions as a metaphor for greed, for, although the affected man’s body retained too much fluid, he was thirsty for more.  Jesus heals the sick man–on the Sabbath, in the presence of critics, no less, and symbolically criticizes his greedy host and other guests while restoring the man to wholeness.  Then our Lord and Savior notices how the other guests choose the positions of honor in contrast to Proverbs 25:6-7a:

Do not exalt yourselves in the king’s presence;

Do not stand in the place of nobles.

For it is better to be told, “Stop up here,”

Than to be degraded in the presence of the great.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is a story from the Gospel of Luke, with a theme of reversal of fortune, so the incident fits the Gospel well.

Jesus sounds much like the subsequent James 2:1-13.  Sit in the lowest place, he advises; do not exalt oneself.

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted?

–Luke 14:11, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Likewise, Jesus continues, invite and honor the poor, the lame, the blind, and the crippled with table fellowship.  This ethos of the Kingdom of God’s priorities being at odds with those of the dominant perspectives of the world is consistent with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11) and the Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20-26).

Give to those who can never repay, Jesus commands us.  And why not?  Has not God given us so much that we can never repay God?  The demand of grace upon us is in this case is to do likewise to others–to do unto others as God has done unto us, to give without expectation of repayment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CANISIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN BLEW, ENGLISH PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-third-sunday-of-easter-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted December 20, 2015 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 18, James 2, Luke 14, Luke 6, Matthew 5, Proverbs, Psalm 30

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