Archive for the ‘Matthew 23’ Category

Respecting God   1 comment

Above:  Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Haggai 1:1-13 or Isaiah 62:1-5

Psalm 36

1 Corinthians 14:1-20

Matthew 23:1-39

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We can never repay God, upon whom we are completely dependent and who extends justice and demands it of us.  We can, however, revere and love God.  We can follow God and use spiritual gifts for the building up of faith and civil communities.  We, collectively and individually, can–and must–never overlook the weightier demands of divine law–justice, mercy, and good faith.  Many of these issues exist in the purviews of governments and corporations, of societal institutions.

I have not kept count of how often I have written of the moral relevance of how we treat our fellow human beings and of how my North American culture overemphasizes individual responsibility to the detriment of collective responsibility.  I choose not to delve into these points again here and now.

I choose, however, to focus on respect.  If we respect God, we will take care of our church buildings.  If we respect God, we will also respect the image of God in other people, and seek to treat them accordingly.  If we respect God, we will be social and political revolutionaries, for the ethics of Jesus remain counter-cultural.  If we respect God, we will be oddballs at best and existential threats at worst, according to our critics.

Do we dare to respect God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 18, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS

THE FEAST OF EDWARD BOUVERIE PUSEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HENRY LASCALLES JENNER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND

THE FEAST OF JOHN CAMPBELL SHAIRP, SCOTTISH POET AND EDUCATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/devotion-for-proper-26-year-a-humes/

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The First Christian Martyr   1 comment

Above:  St. Stephen, by Luis de Morales

Image in the Public Domain

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The readings for the Feast of St. Stephen remind us of the grim reality that suffering for the sake of righteousness is frequently a risk.  We read of one of the many difficulties of the faithful prophet Jeremiah, a man who spoke truth to power when that power was dependent upon hostile foreigners.  The historical record tells us that the Pharaoh of Egypt chose both the King of Judah and his regnal name, Jehoiakim.  Matthew 23, set in the Passion Narrative, reminds us of some of the prophets and teachers, whom God had sent and authorities at Jerusalem had martyred.  Contrary to the wishes of the author of Psalm 31, God does not always deliver the faithful from enemy hands.

St. Stephen, one of the original seven deacons, was probably a Hellenized Jew.  As a deacon, his job in the Church was, in the words of Acts 6:2,

to wait on tables.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The deacons were to provide social services while the Apostles preached and taught.  St. Stephen also debated and preached, however.  His speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:1-53) led to his execution (without a trial) by stoning.  St. Stephen, like Jesus before him, prayed for God to forgive his executioners (Acts 7:60), who, in their minds, were correct to execute him for blasphemy, a capital offense in the Law of Moses.  Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul the Apostle, was prominent in the killing of St. Stephen.  The Apostle recalled the death of St. Stephen and his role in it in Acts 22:20.

Religion, by itself, is generally morally neutral; one can be a moral atheist just as easily as one can be a moral or immoral adherent.  Good religion and bad religion certainly exist.  The test, in moral terms, yet not theological ones, is what kind of adherents they create and nurture.  Regardless of the name of a religion or the content of its tenets, does the reality of living it make one a loving, merciful human being or a judgmental person who might be quick to execute dissenters or consent to that?  This question is always a relevant one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen,

who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ,

who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15

Psalm 31 or 31:1-15

Acts 6:8-7:2a; 51c-60

Matthew 23:34-39

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 139

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/second-day-of-christmas-feast-of-st-stephen-deacon-and-martyr-december-26/

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Love, the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses   1 comment

Above:  Amos

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:

Amos 2:4-8, 13-16

Psalm 25:16-18

Galatians 5:2-12

Matthew 23:27-36

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The author of Psalm 25 was an observant Jew contending with enemies who disapproved of his piety.  He trusted in God, to whom he appealed for help.

That piety was sorely lacking in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  (Aside:  I recommend reading all of Amos 2, for doing so makes the designated passages thereof more meaningful than they are otherwise.)  That lack of piety, made manifest in ritual offenses and violations of human dignity (including the infamous selling of the poor for a poor of sandals in 2:6) YHWH was most displeased.  Dire consequences ensued.

Although Amos supported the Law of Moses, the attitude of St. Paul the Apostle in Galatians was different.  For St. Paul requiring a Gentile convert to Christianity to become a Jew first was wrong.  The apostle had written earlier in that epistle that the Law of Moses was like a disciplinarian or house servant who performed his or her work until the arrival of Christ (Chapter 3:23f):

The distinction between circumcised and uncircumcised is irrelevant in Christ.  What counts is faith that expresses itself in love, because love is the fulfillment of the Law (5:14; Romans 13:8-10).

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 2087

That love was absent from the attitudes and actions of certain scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-36.

In all fairness I feel obligated to defend the motivations of the Judaizers, of whom St. Paul was critical.  Although I am grateful for St. Paul and his work, from which I, as a Gentile, benefit, I acknowledge the pious motives of the Judaizers, defenders of tradition, as they understood it.  I think of them as pious folk who took to heart passages such as Amos 2 and Psalm 25.  Nevertheless, their error, I perceive, was on of which I have been guilty:  maintaining barriers God has knocked down.

We humans like boundaries, literal as well as metaphorical.  They tell us who falls into what category.  There are divinely established categories, I affirm, but they are not necessarily ours.  Furthermore, we might not know where the differences between God’s plan and our definitions lie.  This fact complicates one’s quest to lead a holy life, does it not?

I offer no easy answers regarding how to read God’s mind, for nobody cam read the divine mind.  I do, however, suggest that trusting in God’s grace to treat each other selflessly and self-sacrificingly is a fine spiritual discipline, for love is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, which contains both timeless principles and culturally specific examples thereof.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent-ackerman/

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Blind Fools   1 comment

Above:  Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Daniel 6:16-27

Psalm 108:1-5

Revelation 18:1-3

Matthew 23:13-26

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My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed;

I will sing and make melody.

Wake up, my spirit;

awake, lute and harp;

I myself will waken the dawn.

I will confess you among the peoples, O LORD;

I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens,

and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Exalt yourself above the heavens, O God,

and your glory over all the earth.

–Psalm 108:1-5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

[Psalms 57 and 108 do seem somewhat similar, do they not?]

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The chronology of the Book of Daniel is frankly a mess impossible to reconcile with the rest of the Bible and with ancient history.  The Book of Daniel is a collection of folktales, not history, so one ought not to mistake it for a factually reliable source of knowledge of past events.  Those folktales do contain much truth and wisdom, however.  We ought to interpret the Book of Daniel based on what it is, not what it is not.

Our story from the Book of Daniel affirms the wisdom of trusting God.  That is a strong thematic link to last Sunday’s readings, which are generally gloomier than the pericopes for this Sunday.  In fact, much of what I would like to write, based on the assigned readings, would prove redundant, compared to what I have written in the previous post in this series.  Ackerman crafted his lectionary that well and tightly.

I prefer, therefore, to focus on Matthew 23:13-26.

Those much-maligned scribes and Pharisees were not mustache-twirling villains.  Yes, some of them had spiritual issues pertaining to power and the illusion of control.  And yes, they collaborated with Roman authorities.  But no, they were not mustache-twirling villains.  They were, as Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., the retired Episcopal Bishop of Georgia, said, the good, church-going people of their time.  Many–perhaps most–of them sought to honor God by keeping divine commandments, as they understood them.  Yet they were, in the words of Christ, “blind fools.”

How many of us are “blind fools” and do not know it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS BOSA OF YORK, JOHN OF BEVERLEY, WILFRID THE YOUNGER, AND ACCA OF HEXHAM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF TIMOTHY REES, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LLANDAFF

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2017/04/29/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-ackerman/

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Prelude to the Passion, Part I   1 comment

Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees James Tissot

Above:  Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 22:1-9 or Zechariah 7:7-14

Psalm 58

Matthew 23:13-39 or Luke 11:37-54

1 Timothy 3:1-6

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In Timothy Matthew Slemmons’s Year D (2013) Propers 15-18 are the “Prelude to the Passion” of Jesus Christ.

The emphasis of the readings this Sunday is the moral responsibility of leaders to effect social justice–especially for widows, orphans, aliens, the poor, victims of evil plots, victims of judicial corruption, and the innocent killed.  Fasting and otherwise maintaining appearances of piety and respectability does not deceive God, who is righteously angry.  J. B. Phillips, in The New Testament in Modern English–Revised Edition (1972), cuts to the point, as he usually does in that translation.  Instead of the customary

Woe to you,

we read Jesus thundering,

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you utter frauds!

–Matthew 23:23

and

What miserable frauds you are, you scribes and Pharisees!

–Matthew 23:27 and 29.

Those who dress up their impiety in righteousness are just that–utter and miserable frauds.  The job descriptions for bishops and deacons require officeholders to be the opposite of utter and miserable frauds.

Utter and miserable frauds in secular and religious settings continue to exist, of course.  So does divine judgment against them.

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-15-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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Two Killings   1 comment

Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod--James Tissot

Above:  Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

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 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Psalm 118:26-29

Psalm 27

Matthew 23:37-39

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Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call;

have mercy on me and answer me.

–Psalm 27:7, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Psalm 118 is a song of praise to God after a military victory.  Literary echoes of the text are apparent in the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Consider this verse, O reader:

Blessed be who enters in the name of Yahweh,

we bless you in the house of Yahweh.

–Psalm 118:26, The Anchor Bible:  Psalms III:  101-150 (1970), by Mitchell Dahood, S.J.

That allusion fits well, for, when Jesus entered Jerusalem that fateful week, he did so not as a conquering hero but as one who had conquered and who was en route to the peace talks.  A victorious monarch rode a beast of burden to the negotiations for peace.  Jesus resembled a messianic figure who had won a battle.  He was not being subtle, nor should he have been.

The tone of the assigned reading from Matthew 23 fits the tone of the verse from Psalm 27 better, however.  Psalm 27 consists of two quite different poems with distinct tenors.  Part I is happy and confident, but Part II comes from a place of concern and a context of peril.  The latter distinction is consistent with Christ’s circumstances between the Triumphal Entry and the Crucifixion.

Matthew 23’s Jesus is not a vacation Bible school Jesus or seeker-sensitive Jesus.  That Jesus’s hair is nice and combed.  His robes are sparkling white, and his face is aglow as he hovers about six inches off the ground.  He hugs people a lot, speaks in calm tones, and pats little children on the head as he tells his audience, only four chapters earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, that the kingdom belongs “to such as these” (Matt. 19:14; cf. Mark 10:14/Luke 18:16).  The Jesus of Matt. 23 is of a different sort.  He is fired up and within a word or two of unleashing some profanity in the style of a high school football coach.  This Jesus’s hair is untamed.  His clothes are beaten and tattered from a semitransient lifestyle.  His face and neck are reddened by the Palestinian sun, and his feet are blistered, cracked, and calloused.  There is a wild look in his eyes, sweat pouring down his forehead, and spit flying off his lips when he yells, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matt. 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 39; cf. 23:16).  His message ends not with a head pat to a child and an aphorism about the kingdom, but with tales of murder and bloodshed (23:34-37).

When you finish reading Jesus’s tirade against the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23, you might need a deep breath.  Those who have grown all too accustomed to the teddy-bear Jesus may need to reassess wholesale their idea of Jesus.  At the very least, we can point to the text and affirm that, when early Christians such as Matthew commemorated Jesus’s life in the form of narrative Gospels, they portrayed a Jewish teacher who was embroiled in heated controversy with other Jewish teachers and gave as good as he got.

–Chris Keith, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite:  The Origins of the Conflict (2014), page 5

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You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters!  Damn you!

–Matthew 23:29a, The Complete Gospels:  Annotated Scholars Version (1994)

Literary context matters.  Immediately prior to Matthew 23:37-39, the lament of Jesus over Jerusalem, our Lord and Savior, having engaged in verbal confrontations with religious authorities, denounces the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, power plays, impiety, violence, and inner impurity.  Immediately after Matthew 23:37-39 comes Matthew 24, in which Christ speaks apocalyptically, as in Mark 13 and Luke 21.  (The order of some of the material differs from one Synoptic Gospel to another, but these are obviously accounts of the same discourse.)  Jesus is about to suffer and die.

Matthew 23:34-39 echoes 2 Chronicles 24:17-25.  In 2 Chronicles 24 King Joash/Jehoash of Judah (reigned 837-800 B.C.E.), having fallen into apostasy and idolatry, orders the execution (by stoning) of one Zechariah, son of the late priest Jehoiada.  Zechariah’s offense was to confront the monarch regarding his apostasy and idolatry.  The priest’s dying wish is

May the LORD see and avenge!

–2 Chronicles 24:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The theology of the narrative holds that God saw and avenged, given the subsequent killing of Joash/Jehoash by servants.

A contrast between that story and the crucifixion of Jesus becomes clear.  Never does Jesus say

May the LORD see and avenge!

or anything similar to it.  One cannot find Christ’s prayer for forgiveness for the crown and those who crucified him in Matthew or Mark, but one can locate it at Luke 23:34, which portrays him as a righteous sufferer, such as the author of Part II of Psalm 27.

The example of Jesus has always been difficult to emulate.  That example is, in fact, frequently counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.  Love your enemies?  Bless those who persecute you?  Take up your cross?  Really, yes.  It is possible via grace.  I know the difficulty of Christian discipleship.  It is a path I have chosen, from which I have strayed, and to which I have returned.  The goal is faithfulness, not perfection.  We are, after all, imperfect.  But we can do better, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 15, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 28:  THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF REGENSBURG

THE FEAST OF JOHANN GOTTLOB KLEMM, INSTRUMENT MAKER; DAVID TANNENBERG, SR., GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN ORGAN BUILDER; JOHANN PHILIP BACHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN INSTRUMENT MAKER; JOSEPH FERDINAND BULITSCHEK, BOHEMIAN-AMERICAN ORGAN BUILDER; AND TOBIAS FRIEDRICH, GERMAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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