Archive for the ‘Numbers II: 13-20’ Category

True Liberation III   Leave a comment

Above:   Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebbel (1630)

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Grant, we pray thee, O God, that we who have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

may demonstrate his victory in our daily conduct and face the future unafraid;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 122

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Exodus 17:1-6

1 John 5:1-12

John 21:1-12

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Doubting is frequently predictable.  Much of the time it is even justifiable.  Yet there is a difference between skepticism and grumbling.

I give the fishing Apostles in John 21 a gentle evaluation, for I can only imagine the psychological shock they were experiencing.  At such times returning to a familiar pattern can provide some comfort.  Jesus gently invites us to eat breakfast then to return to following him.

Exodus 17:1-7 provides one of two stories of Moses striking a rock, to release water; Numbers 20:1-13 offers the other one.  Exodus 17:1-7 is the story in which Moses had orders  to strike the rock; Numbers 20:1-13 is the story in which he had orders to speak to it.  The grumbling–murmuring–of the people in both stories is part of a pattern in the generation of Israelites, whom God liberated from Egypt; it indicates faithlessness, a selective memory, and a slave mentality.  There are three spiritual problems that remain ubiquitous, unfortunately.

True liberation can prove frightening.  One may think of the scene from the Life of Brian (1979), in which a formerly lame man Jesus had healed complains about no longer being lame as he pretends to be lame.  True liberation imposes responsibility upon the liberated grace is free, but far from cheap.

May we, by grace, rejoicing in our liberation via Jesus and accepting our responsibilities, follow him whose commandments are not burdensome.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MARTYN DEXTER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HISTORIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABBO OF FLEURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRICE OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS TAVELIC AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Faithfulness and Egos   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebber

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who hast created man in thine own image:

grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression;

and, that we may reverently use our freedom,

help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

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Deuteronomy 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:10-16

Matthew 17:1-8

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The assigned readings for this day give us two mountains–in Deuteronomy 34 and Matthew 17.

The sin of Moses in Numbers 20:9-13 was the lack of trust in God.  He disobeyed orders, striking the rock–twice, actually–instead of speaking to it–to release the water contained therein.  He took glory intended for the Name of God.  Also, as one Jewish commentary on the Book of Numbers has taught me regarding this passage, wrath and leadership ought not to go together.  Moses and Aaron, having become resigned by the continued faithlessness of their people, lost faith in the continuity of the divine faithfulness to those people.  Therefore, Moses did not cross over into the Promised Land; he did see it, though.

Ephesians 4:10-16 reminds us that spiritual gifts exist for the glory of God and the building up of faith communities, not the sake of the ego and the reputation of those who receive those gifts.  We are stewards of our spiritual gifts.

The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17, set en route to die in Jerusalem, reminds us of the full glory of Jesus shortly prior to his Passion.  We read of the presence of Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets), figures who, although great, were not as great as Jesus.  One should note the story of the assumption of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18) as well as Deuteronomy 34:6, which tells us that God buried Moses.  An especially observant reader of ancient Jewish traditions knows of the alleged assumption of Moses.

Losing faith in divine promises is relatively easy, for God frequently acts in ways that defy our expectations.  The problem is human, not divine.  Faithlessness is not always malicious, but it does indicate weakness.  Yet, as Martin Luther insisted, we can trust in the faithfulness of God, even when we lose faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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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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Psalms 95-97   1 comment

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POST XXXVII 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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God is the universal ruler and judge, we read.  God, unlike many earthly potentates, is just, Psalm 96 makes plain.  Yes, God might seem harsh, from a certain point of view (such as that of certain faithless Hebrews in the Sinai Desert after the Exodus), but one needs a good understanding of that narrative from the Torah to grasp the significance of the referenced events.  (One can start by reading Exodus 17:7, Deuteronomy 33:8, and Numbers 20:1-13.)

Human nature is a constant factor, for both good and bad.  Thus we will always have perfidious potentates among us.  We will know them by their fruits, to use Biblical language.  The standard God establishes puts all perfidious potentates and even the conscientious ones to shame, for no more mortal can match the divine standard of justice.  It is far better, however, to fall short of that standard while being conscientious than to do so while being perfidious.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, PRESIDENT OF KING’S COLLEGE, “FATHER OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN CONNECTICUT,” AND “FATHER OF AMERICAN LIBRARY CLASSIFICATION;” TIMOTHY CUTLER, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, AND RECTOR OF YALE COLLEGE; DANIEL BROWNE, EDUCATOR, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, AND ANGLICAN PRIEST; AND JAMES WETMORE, CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JONATHAN FRIEDRICH BAHNMAIER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Grace and Enemies   1 comment

Above:   The Death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, 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 16:1-5, 23-25

Psalm 55

Acts 14:8-18

John 2:23-25

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Scarcely had [Moses] finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions.   They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.  All Israel around them fled at their shrieks, for they said, “The earth might swallow us!”

And a fire went forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense.

–Numbers 16:31-35, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The moral of the story is not to challenge the authority of Moses.

A recurring theme in the assigned readings for today is the presence of enemies.  The life of Jesus is constantly in peril in the Gospel of John.  One might imagine him repeating Psalm 55 frequently.

The enemies in Acts 14 include those who, out of ignorance and cultural conditioning, mistake Sts. Barnabas and Paul the Apostle for Zeus and Hermes, respectively, after the healing of a man lame from birth.  It is true that the residents of Lystra did not know what they were doing.  We read of Sts. Paul and Barnabas attempting to correct them, to no avail.  If we keep reading, we learn of the stoning of St. Paul by hostile Jews at Lystra, followed by the departure of the evangelists from the town the following day.

[Paul and Barnabas] warned [the disciples] that to enter the kingdom of God we must undergo many hardships.

–Acts 14:22b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Suffering for the sake of righteousness is an old and frequently perplexing pattern.  We ought to know that God never promised us lives of ease because of our piety, but that we would have divine companionship during such times of suffering.   We also have the model of Jesus, who suffered and died mightily, not because of his own sins, but those of others.  Suffering the consequences of one’s actions makes more sense, from a human perspective, does it not?  Just desserts are reciprocal, after all.

Yet, as we notice often, the just desserts seem not to arrive, at least not on schedule, as we define the schedule.   The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper; that is an ancient lament.  When we interject scandalous grace into the equation we learn that some of wicked might repent.  Maybe we want them to suffer, not repent.  Perhaps we seek the wrath, not the forgiveness, of God for our enemies.  If so, are we not on their moral level?  Should we not dwell on a higher moral level?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/devotion-for-proper-10-ackerman/

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Compassion and the Sabbath, Part III   1 comment

Above:   Christ Healing, by Rembrandt van Rijn

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 12:1-15

Psalm 53

Acts 12:6-19

Luke 14:2-6

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The standard English-language translation of the opening line of Psalms 14 and 53 is that a fool thinks that there is no God.   However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) has the benighted man thinking that God does not care.   This gets to the point of practical atheism, not the modern, widespread reality of theoretical atheism, rare in the ancient Middle East.  Indeed, God cares jealously in the Bible.  God objects strenuously whenever someone challenges Moses.  God also sends an angel to break St. Simon Peter out of prison.

The portion from Luke 14 exists within a larger narrative context–the eschatological banquet, symbolic of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is at a banquet at the home of a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath.   In the reading assigned for today our Lord and Savior heals a man afflicted with dropsy, or severe retention of fluid.  The fact that he does this on the Sabbath becomes controversial immediately.  Jesus rebuts that even they rescue a child or an ox from a well on the Sabbath.  They cannot argue against him.

Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament (1997), wrote the following:

Actually at Qumran there was a prohibition of pulling a newborn animal our of a pit on the Sabbath (CD 11:13-14).

–Page 248

Every day is a proper day to act out of compassion, according to Jesus, although not the community at Qumran.

In the great eschatological banquet the blind, the lame, the poor, and the crippled are welcome–even preferred guests.   One ought to invite them because it is the right thing to do.  One should commit good deeds out of compassion and piety, not the desire for reciprocal treatment.  Grace is not transactional.

The temptation to relate to God in transactional terms is a powerful one.  It is, among other things, a form of works-based righteousness, a major theological error.  Keeping the Covenant, at its best, is a matter of faithful response to God.  (“If you love me, keep my commandments.”–John 14:15)  However useful having a list of instructions can be, that list can easily become for one a checklist to manipulate, until one violates major tenets while honoring minor facets.  In the Jewish tradition one finds longstanding recognition of a summary of the Law of Moses:  Love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.

So healing a man on the Sabbath should not be controversial, should it?  (John 7:22-24)

But what about Sabbath laws?  There is a death penalty for working on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), except when there is not (Leviticus 12:3).  If the eighth day of a boy’s life falls on the Sabbath, the circumcision of the child must, according to the Law of Moses, occur on the Sabbath.  But do not dare to collect sticks on the Sabbath!   Removing part of a male on the Sabbath is permissible, so why not making someone whole?

Every day is a good day to act compassionately, according to Jesus.  God cares about the needs of people each day.  So should we.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/devotion-for-proper-9-ackerman/

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The Failure of the Flesh   1 comment

Above:  High Priest Offering Incense on an Altar

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:

Leviticus 18:19-22; 19:19, 27-28

Psalm 118:5-9

Romans 1:8-2:11

Mark 10:32-34

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While the reading from Mark 10 marks the movement of Jesus toward his death and Psalm 118 reminds us of the wisdom of trusting in God and not in flesh, we read frequently misinterpreted passages from Leviticus and Romans.  Although the homosexual orientation has existed since antiquity, the recognition of its reality is much more recent.  The assumption in the readings, therefore, is that there is no such thing as the homosexual orientation, hence the allegedly unnatural nature of the acts.  Furthermore, Leviticus also condemns wearing clothing (except in fringes and in priestly vestments) made of two or more types of cloth and recognizes the existence of slavery.  The illicit sexual encounter in Leviticus 19:20 is allegedly wrong–and a capital offense–because someone has reserved the slave woman for another man.  As for combining linen and wool (except when one is supposed to do so), mixing them is wrong in the text, as are mixing seeds of two plants in the same field and breeding animals across species barriers.

The real theme seems to be mixing.  As Everett Fox summarizes,

Mixtures in the Bible seem to be reserved for the divine sphere alone.

The Five Books of Moses (1997), page 603

And God mandates some mixing in the Torah, as I have indicated.  Exodus 28:6 and 39:29 prescribe the mixing of different types of cloth in priestly vestments and Numbers 15:37-40 commands fringes on clothing.

Mixing has long obsessed many people.  Race mixing has long occurred in the United States, for example.  It was ubiquitous on plantations–often via the rape of slave women by masters.  The social offense was getting caught.  Consensual race mixing via marriage used to be illegal in 27 states, until 1967.

The truth, of course, is that many of us are genetic hodge-podges.  I am, for example, somewhat Cherokee, although my ancestry is mostly British and Irish, with contributions from elsewhere in Western Europe.  Purity is not a matter of ethnicity or of any other form of identity, despite the fact that many people insist that it is.  Thinking vainly that is otherwise exemplifies claiming to be wise yet really being a fool.

The real point of the reading from Romans is not to judge others for doing what one also does (2:1).  Besides, judgment resides in the divine purview alone.  In Pauline theology to break one part of the Law of Moses is to violate the entire code–a thought worthy of consideration in the context of divine patience, meant to lead people to repentance.

Guilt in the reading from Roman 1-2 is both individual and collective.  Individual sins are staples of much of the theology of Protestantism, which does not handle collective sins as well as Judaism and Roman Catholicism do.  To focus on personal peccadilloes to the marginalization or denial of collective sins is to mis the point and the means of correcting the relevant social problem or problems.  And all of us are partially responsible for faults in our societies.  Will we accept that reality and act accordingly?

The natural conclusion to this post comes from Psalm 118.  Rely on God, not on flesh.  God is faithful, but flesh fails.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS LUGUORI AND THE SISTERS OF MARY DELL’ORTO

THE FEAST OF CHARLES AUGUSTUS BRIGGS, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER THEN EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROBERT OF NEWMINSTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-in-lent-ackerman/

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