Archive for the ‘Matthew 4’ Category

Thoughts and Questions About the Temptations of Jesus   2 comments

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

Lent 2019

 

Texts:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Reading the Bible for spiritual formation is an ancient Benedictine practice.  My primary purpose in writing this short piece is to ask, how do the accounts (mainly the Lukan and Matthean ones) of the temptations of Jesus challenge us, both as individuals and a parish, to follow Jesus better than we do.

The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread

Bread was especially precious in ancient Palestine, with relatively little arable land.

We are blessed to be able to purchase our bread inexpensively at stores.  Bread is abundant in our context, so we probably take it for granted more often than not.  We can, however, think of some tangible needs related to scarcity.

One challenge is not to permit tangible needs to overtake intangible necessities.  We all depend entirely on God and dwell within a web of mutual responsibility and dependence.  According to the late Henri Nouwen, this temptation is the temptation to be relevant.  Relevance is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is frequently positive.  However, maintaining the proper balance of tangible and intangible needs is essential.  Furthermore, Christ’s refusal to cave into the temptation to use his power to make bread—to cease to depend on God—ought to remind us never to imagine that we do not depend entirely on God.

Questions

  1. Do we permit tangible needs to distract us from intangible necessities?  If so, how?
  2. Do we manifest the vain idea that we do not depend entirely on God?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple

Many scholars of the New Testament have proposed what the pinnacle of the Temple was.

That matter aside, this temptation is, according to Nouwen, the temptation to be spectacular.  It is also the temptation to attempt to manipulate God by trying to force God to intervene in a miraculous way.  That effort, like turning stones into bread, would indicate a lack of faith.

We humans frequently like the spectacular, do we not?  We tell ourselves and others that, if only God would do something spectacular, we will believe.  We are like those who, in the Gospels, only wanted Jesus to do something for them, and not to learn from him.

Questions

  1. Does our attraction to the spectacular distract us from the still, small voice of God?  If so, how?
  2. Does our attraction to the spectacular reveal our lack of faith?  If so, how?
  3. Does our attraction to the spectacular unmask our selfishness?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Worship Satan in Exchange for Earthly Authority

Many Palestinian Jews at the time of Christ thought of Satan as the power behind the Roman Empire and of the Roman pantheon as a collection of demons.  Jesus affirmed God the Father as the only source of his identity.

This temptation is about idolatry, power, and morally untenable compromises.

Many well-intentioned people—ministers, politicians, and appointed office holders, for example—have, in the name of doing good, become corrupt and sacrificed their suitability to do good.  They have sacrificed their moral integrity on the altar of amoral realism.

Some compromises are necessary, of course.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we cannot help but commit some evil while trying to do good, for human depravity has corrupted social systems and institutions.

Questions

  1. Have we established our identity apart from God?  If so, how?
  2. How have we, with good intentions, committed or condoned evil?
  3. Have we made morally untenable compromises?  If so, how?

The Good News

The good news is both collective and individual.

I discover the principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Jesus has modeled the way to resist temptation—to trust God and to understand scripture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

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Passing or Failing Spiritual Tests   Leave a comment

Above:  Temptations of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who givest us our quiet seasons of thought and prayer:

help us now and at all times to find in thee our true peace.

Save us in the hour of trial, deliver us from evil thoughts and desires,

and from the tyranny of outward things.

May we learn of Christ to be strong and brave in the struggle with temptation,

and to over come even as he overcame.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120-121

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Genesis 22:1-8

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Matthew 4:1-11

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One’s sole basis of identity should be God, according to Henri J. M. Nouwen, writing in The Way of the Heart (1981).  That standard proves daunting for me, for my ego rests on several factors, including my intellect.

In Matthew 4 we read of the temptations of Jesus.  Analyses of the temptations, with slight variations, follow the same pattern.  Nouwen’s argument is that the temptations were, in order, were “the three great compulsions of the world”:  to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.  The case according to M. Eugene Boring, writing in Volume VIII (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, follows:

  1. To fulfill messianic expectations and gain political power by feeding the masses,
  2. To demonstrate dramatically that he is the Son of God, and
  3. To serve Satan, to rule as the Roman Emperor did, and to accept and fit in with the status quo.

The case according to Douglas R. A. Hare (1993) is that the temptations were, in order, to distrust God, to dishonor God, and to commit idolatry.

I would be remiss if I chose not to quote the play, Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), set in the U.S. South.  In that paraphrase, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into grits.  Jesus replies,

Man doesn’t live by grits alone, but on every word that drips from the lips of God.

–35

I experience no temptation to justify the actions of Abraham in Genesis 22.  My analysis differs from what one may have read and heard elsewhere:  God tested Abraham, and Abraham failed, for he should have argued from the beginning.

Abraham cared more about strangers, on whose behalf he haggled with God in Genesis 18, than he about his sons.  He exiled Ishmael in Genesis 21 and was prepared to kill Isaac in Genesis 22.  Arguing faithfully with God has long been part of Judaism and, by extension, Christianity.  Abraham, at the root of Judaism, had argued with God.  Why was he submissive at this crucial moment?  And how much did he damage his domestic relationships?

I have probably read every traditional rationalization of Genesis 22:1-19.  Not one has satisfied me.

One could write about more than one theme present in 2 Corinthians 6, but verse 3 stands out in my mind.  Erecting spiritual obstacles is a frequent human activity.  One might even mistake doing so for being properly devout.  Who is an outsider?  Who is an insider?  Our answers to those may be predictable, but God’s answers may shock us.  Also, we must trust in God if we are to grow spiritually, but do we really understand divine intentions at crucial moments?

One may wish for a clear–even spectacular–sign or signs.  Yet would we understand those, or would we find the signs distracting and miss the message?  Yes, we would, correct?

I ask God for no spectacular signs.  No, I need simply to pay attention to my surroundings.  As I type these words, the seasons are finally turning–from an abbreviated autumn to an early winter.  The splendor of autumn leaves, cold temperatures, and other wonders of nature satisfy many of my spiritual needs.

Trusting in God remains difficult for me much of the time, but doing so is at least less difficult than it used to be.  Grace accounts for that change.  I trust more progress will ensue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Faithful Servants of God, Part V   1 comment

Above:  Ministry of the Apostles

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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Ecclesiastes 1:2-18 or Ezekiel 11:14-20

Psalm 3

Galatians 2:1-13

Matthew 4:12-25

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If one begins to read Ecclesiastes and gives up quickly, one might mistake the theme of the book to be that all is futility and vanity.  One might ask,

Why bother doing anything?

If, however, one keeps reading and pays attention, one will arrive at the précis of the book, present at its conclusion, in 12:13-14:  The duty of a human being is to stand in awe of God and keep divine commandments, for God is the judge of everything, whether good or evil.

That ethic is consistent with Ezekiel 11:14-20 and Psalm 3.  Fidelity to God does not ensure a life full of ease, wine, ad roses, but it is one’s duty.  It is the duty to which Jesus, who called his Apostles, continues to call people and for which the Holy Spirit continues to equip the saints.

Sometimes, however, in the name of obeying God, well-meaning people establish or maintain barriers to would-be faithful people who are different.  This segue brings me to the reading from Galatians and to the question of circumcising Gentile male converts to Christianity.  On one level it is a matter of a commandment as old as the time of Abraham.  On another level it is a question of identity.  On yet another level it is, for many, a matter of obedience to God.

For St. Paul the Apostle it was a stumbling block to Gentiles.  He was correct.  Fortunately, St. Paul won that debate.

Fidelity to God is supposed to help others come to God, not to make that more difficult than it is already.  May we who follow Christ never be guilty of standing between God and other people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 19, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF NAZARETH, HUSBAND OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a-humes/

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Faithful Servants of God, Part IV   1 comment

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

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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Ecclesiastes 2:11-26 or Ezekiel 2:1-3:4

Psalm 1

Galatians 1:1-24

Matthew 4:1-11

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The theme of fidelity to God unites these readings.

Fools and wise people die.  One works hard then dies; others inherit.  At least one can be faithful to God and enjoy one’s work during one’s life filled with pain.  That description certainly applies to Ezekiel, Jesus, and St. Paul the Apostle.  Relying on God while surrounded by faithless people, as well as away from the faithless, maddening crowd, one can resist the temptations to seek the easy way out, to be spectacular, to glorify oneself, not to depend on God, to serve evil, to make peace with injustice, et cetera.

As Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote in 1930,

Save us from weak resignation

To the evils we deplore;

Let the search for Thy salvation

Be our glory evermore.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

Serving Thee whom we adore,

Serving Thee whom we adore.

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 19, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF NAZARETH, HUSBAND OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a-humes/

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Pointing to God, Not Ourselves   1 comment

Moses Striking the Rock in Horeb

Above:  Moses Strikes the Rock in Horeb, by Gustave Dore

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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Numbers 12:1-16 or 20:1-13 (14-21) 22-29

Psalm 106:(1) 7-18, 24-18 (43-48) or Psalm 95

Luke 1:(57) 58-67 (68-79) 80

Hebrews 3:1-19

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Many times he delivered them,

but they were rebellious in their purposes,

and were brought low through their iniquity.

Nevertheless he regarded their distress

when he heard their cry.

–Psalm 106:43-44, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

and put me to the proof, though you had seen my work.

–Psalm 95:8-9, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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In most of the readings for this day we read of grumbling against God and/or Moses despite God’s proven track record, frequently in the presence of those who go on to grumble.  Miriam and Aaron question the authority of Moses in Numbers 12. Miriam becomes ritually unclean because of this (Do not question Moses!), but her brother intercedes for her.  People witness then seem to forget God’s mighty acts in Psalms 95 and 106, as well as in Hebrews 3.  And, in Numbers 20, Moses disobeys instructions from God.  He is supposed to speak to a rock to make water come out of it, but he strikes it instead.

By word and act Moses is thus appropriating to himself an act of God.  In doing this he is undoing the message that God and Moses himself have been conveying to the to the people up to this point.  The people have continuously directed their attention to Moses instead of to God….Until this episode Moses has repeatedly told the people, “It is not from my own heart,” and “You are congregating against YHWH,” but now his words and actions confirm the people’s own perception.

–Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), page 495

Moses was generally trustworthy in the sight of God, per the positive assessment of him in Hebrews 3.  At Meribah he gave into human weakness.  All of us have caved into our own weaknesses on multiple occasions, have we not?  Have we not, for example, sought our own glory instead of that of God?  Have we not yielded to the temptation to be spectacular, which Henri J. M. Nouwen identified in The Way of the Heart (1981) as one of Satan’s temptations of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 4?   If we have lived long enough, yes, we have.

And you, my child, will be called Prophet of the Most High,

for you will be the Lord’s forerunner to prepare his way

and lead his people to a knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of sins:

for in the tender compassion of our God

the dawn of heaven will break upon us,

to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet in the way of peace.

–St. Zechariah in Luke 1:76-79, The Revised English Bible (1989)

St. John the Baptist grew up and became one who admitted the truth that he was not the Messiah (Luke 3:15-17 and Mark 1:7-8).  He pointed to cousin Jesus instead (Matthew 3:13-14 and John 3:25-36).

The spiritual vocations of Christians vary in details, but the common threads run through those calls from God.  We who call ourselves Christians have, for example, a responsibility to glorify God, not ourselves, and to point to Jesus.  We also have an obligation to lead lives defined by gratitude to God, not rebellion against God.  We can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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Signs, Wonders, and Problems With Them   1 comment

temptations-of-christ

Above:  Temptations of Christ, a Byzantine Mosaic

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Holy God, heavenly Father, in the waters of the flood you saved the chosen,

and in the wilderness of temptation you protected your Son from sin.

Renew us in the gift of baptism.

May your holy angels be with us,

that the wicked foe may have no power over us,

through 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:

Proverbs 30:1-9

Psalm 77

Matthew 4:1-11

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You are the God who works wonders

and have declared your power among the people.

–Psalm 77:14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Yet Jesus refused to work wonders during the Temptations.  Yes, he performed many wonders later, but perhaps he was concerned that people follow him for the correct reason.  And, as a note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) says on page 1752:

Jesus…rejects the presumption that God is an emergency “dial-up” service, a servant of human bidding.

The words of Agur son of Jakeh (in Proverbs 30) contain a prayer for deliverance from lies and for wealth in moderation.  Poverty might lead him to curse God, and excessive wealth might cause him to renounce God also.  A sense of awareness of dependence on God informs that prayer.  Those requests also reject a false understanding of God as a vending machine or a cosmic bell boy.

If we follow God, why do we do so?  We will have mixed motives, I suppose, but that is a human condition.  Our motives might not be pure, but do we at least love God for who God is and grasp the reality that God does not serve us?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 6, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE SEVENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICETIUS OF TRIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP; AND SAINT AREDIUS OF LIMOGES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF KRATIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, BISHOP, AND HERMIT

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF PHILIP BERRIGAN, SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted December 11, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Matthew 4, Proverbs, Psalm 77

Tagged with , ,

Malachi and Matthew, Part II: Exploitative Priests   1 comment

high-priest-and-levite

Above:  A High Priest and a Levite

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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 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Malachi 2:1-3:5 (September 26)

Malachi 3:6-24 (September 27–Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Versification)

Malachi 3:6-4:6 (September 27–Protestant Versification)

Psalm 143 (Morning–September 26)

Psalm 86 (Morning–September 27)

Psalms 81 and 116 (Evening–September 26)

Psalms 6 and 19 (Evening–September 27)

Matthew 4:1-11 (September 26)

Matthew 4:12-25 (September 27)

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Some Related Posts:

Malachi 2-4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/advent-devotion-for-december-23/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/eighth-day-of-advent-second-sunday-of-advent-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/week-of-proper-22-thursday-year-1/

Matthew 4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/second-day-of-epiphany/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-sunday-in-lent-year-a/

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Show me a sign of your favor,

so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,

because you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

–Psalm 86:17, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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But you have turned away from the cause:  You have made many stumble through your rulings; you have corrupted the covenant of the Levites–said the LORD of Hosts.  And I, in turn, have made you despicable and vile in the eyes of all the people, because you disregard My ways and show partiality in your rulings.

–Malachi 2:8-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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Malachi, speaking for God, condemned priests who abused their privileged positions by accepting unacceptable sacrifices from wealthy people and who ruled improperly against the less fortunate.  The imagery was quite vivid, for God would

strew dung

–2:3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

upon the priests’ faces.  And God objected to other injustices, including cheating laborers, widows, orphans, and strangers.  These offenses concluded a thought which began with practicing sorcery, committing adultery, and swearing falsely.  (See 3:5.)

Malachi affirmed obeying the Law of Moses:

From the very days of your fathers you have turned from My laws and not observed them.  Turn back to Me and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.

–3:6-7a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

One important reality to grasp when pondering the Law of Moses is that modern Classical Liberal notions of individualism were

not the ancient Israelite’s experience of freedom…because the Israelite was not his own master, but God’s slave.  His acknowledgement of the divine kingship gave him responsibilities to his fellow Israelites.

–Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics:  How to Read the Bible Politically, 2d. ed.  (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011, page 107)

The most basic of these responsibilities was to care for others actively and effectively.

The temptations of Jesus, which I interpret as mythic, do reflect a refusal to, among other things, behave in self-aggrandizing ways.  In fact, I understand the reality of the Incarnation as the opposite of self-aggrandizement.  Our Lord and Savior’s model of service to others reinforces this theme.  His call to follow him echoes down to today.

Despite the protests of Malachi and the example of Jesus many self-identified Christian leaders have exploited others, not served them in the name God, and/or condoned such exploitation or neglect.  This reality continues to be true, unfortunately.  May this cease, by divine grace and human free will.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 19, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MURIN OF FAHAN, LASERIAN OF LEIGHLIN, GOBAN OF PICARDIE, FOILLAN OF FOSSES, AND ULTAN OF PERONNE, ABBOTTS; AND OF SAINTS FURSEY OF PERONNE AND BLITHARIUS OF SEGANNE, MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALPHEGE OF CANTERBURY, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY OF THE INCARNATION, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON BARSABAE, BISHOP; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/devotion-for-september-26-and-27-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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