Archive for the ‘1 Samuel 21’ Category

Psalms 32-34   2 comments

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POST XII 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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Psalm 34 occurs in the context of 1 Samuel 21:12-15.  In that story, David, on the run from King Saul, also fears King Achish of Gath.  Our hero, therefore, acts like a lunatic, so that Achish will expel him.  Psalm 34 extols God for protecting the faithful, but one should not underestimate David’s acting abilities either.

That trust in God exists in Psalms 32 and 33 also.  God is the master of history in Psalm 33.  That text also affirms something previous Psalms have argued:  God, not the military alone, brings about victory in war.  Psalm 32 reflects the belief (contrary to the omniscient voice in the Book of Job) that illness necessarily results from sin.  Thus the text links confession and recovery.  Yes, many illnesses result from one’s bad conduct, but sometimes defects lurk in one’s DNA or we are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Or maybe one is simply in the presence of non-hygienic children who spread viruses and diseases.  Or, in the case of Job 1 and 2, one is an unwilling pawn in a heavenly wager.

In each of the three texts assigned we read affirmations of fidelity to and trust in God.  The advice of Psalm 34:15 is timeless:

Shun evil and do good,

seek peace and pursue it.

–Mitchell J. Dahood translation

The translation of that verse in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) reads:

Shun evil and do good,

seek amity and pursue it.

A note in TANAKH informs me that an alternative translation to “amity” is “integrity.”

Of course, many who shun evil commit it anyway, by accident.  Also, many people agree that we should seek and pursue peace/amity/integrity, but what does that mean in practical terms in various circumstances?  May we, by grace, discern that and act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 8, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MACKILLOP, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS

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Spiritual Blindness, Part II   1 comment

mosaic

Above:  Mosaic, Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel

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:

1 Samuel 21:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:38-44

Psalm 49:(1-12) 13-20

Matthew 15:29-39; 16:10-12 or Mark 8:1-26

2 Corinthians 8:1-6 (7-15) 16-24

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Stories of a holy person feeding a multitude with a small amount of food and having leftovers rhyme, if you will, O reader, in the Bible.  This day we read an account of Elisha feeding 100 men and parallel stories of Jesus feeding 4000 men (plus uncounted women and children) in Matthew 15 and about 4000 people in Mark 8.  The mechanics of such feelings do not interest me, but the theological importance of them does.  The Kingdom of God is here, and we can perceive that reality, if we are spiritually attuned.  In the Kingdom of God one finds abundance for everyone; artificial scarcity is a human creation.

Meanwhile, in 2 Corinthians 8, St. Paul the Apostle is raising funds for the Church at Jerusalem.  This becomes explicit in Chapter 9.  He, quoting Exodus 16:18, originally about manna, makes a point about wealth, monetary and physical:

The one who had much did not have too much,

and the one who had little did not have too little.

–2 Corinthians 8:15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

After all, we cannot take our money and possessions with us when we die.  In this life we ought to use them for positive purposes.  So, for example, if a rebel leader (David) pretending to be in the employ of King Saul needs bread for himself and his men takes the display bread reserved for priests to eat, the physical need overrides the ritual rules.  (Yet, in 1 Samuel 22, the lie had fatal consequences for the priests.)

In the Kingdom of God scarcity is absent.  So is the violence of someone such as King Saul.  The ways of God are not the ways of human beings, despite our repeated attempts to make God fit into our categories.  Part of this problem of attempting to make God fit into our categories is unavoidable, for, when we ponder God, we must do so from a human perspective.  It is the only way we can think about God.  Yet we must, if we are wise, recognize that our point of view is rather restricted.  Our perspective might be, for example, the spiritual blindness of the Apostles of the leaven of the Pharisees.  Reality is much broader than our narrow perspectives, we read.  Are we willing to open our spiritual eyes?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 12, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN DOBER, MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER; JOHANN LEONHARD DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; AND ANNA SCHINDLER DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDITH CAVELL, NURSE AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF SCOTLAND, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT NECTARIUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/devotion-for-the-fifth-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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Sabbath   1 comment

Church of the Resurrection February 8, 2015

Above:  Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Sautee, Georgia, February 8, 2015

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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The Collect:

O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures

surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright.

Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer

because of human sin, we may rise victorious through

your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 15:32-41 (Thursday)

2 Chronicles 8:12-15 (Friday)

Nehemiah 13:15-22 (Saturday)

Psalm 103:1-8 (All Days)

Hebrews 12:13-17 (Thursday)

Acts 17:1-9 (Friday)

Luke 6:1-5 (Saturday)

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Bless Yahweh, my soul,

from the depths of my being, his holy name;

bless Yahweh, my soul,

never forget all his acts of kindness.

–Psalm 103:1-2, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Keeping divine commandments is one way of manifesting love for God.  Observing the Sabbath is the dominant issue in these days’ readings, so I focus on it.

Sabbath is an indication of freedom.  When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they had no days off.  Since they were free, however, they had a day off each week.  Violating it carried a death sentence, though.  (That was unduly harsh!)  The reality of the death penalty for that infraction indicated the importance of keeping Sabbath in that culture, which understood that individual violations led to communal punishment.

Our Lord and Savior’s Apostles plucked grain with their hands one Sabbath.  This was permissible in Deuteronomy 23:25 yet not in Exodus 34:21.  Jesus preferred to cite the former, but his accusers favored the latter.  He also understood the precedent David set in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, in which, in an emergency, he and his soldiers consumed holy bread.  Jesus grasped a basic reality–people need the Sabbath, but there should be flexibility regarding the rules of the day.  In this respect he fit in nicely with his Jewish culture, with its various understandings of Sabbath laws.

Life brings too many hardships to endure (often for the sake of righteousness).  Fewer of them would exist if more people would be content to mind their own business.  Why, then, do so many observant people add to this by turning a day of freedom into one of misery?  I suppose that legalism brings joy to certain individuals.

May we keep the Sabbath as a day of rest, relaxation, and freedom, not legalism and misery.  If we must work on our usual Sabbath, may we keep Sabbath another day.

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-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-16-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Compassion and Identity   1 comment

Showbread

Above:  Priests Replacing the Showbread

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

throughout time you free the oppressed,

heal the sick,

and make whole all that you have made.

Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin,

and by your power restore us to wholeness of life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 21:1-6

Psalm 78:1-4, 52-72

John 5:1-18

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Yet still they tested God Most High and rebelled against him,

and would not keep his commandments.

–Psalm 78:56, Common Worship (2000)

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Falling into legalism is at least as bad as having disregard for divine law.  Both errors arrive at the same destination:  missing the mark, which is the definition of sin.

One must, if one is to be thorough, read the Gospel of John in the context of its composition:  rising tensions between Jews and Christians.  Many of the latter category were also Jews, but they had become marginalized within Judaism.  Thus invective infected the text of the Johannine Gospel.  The “scribes and Pharisees” of the Synoptic Gospels became “the Jews.”  Jews were labeling other Jews “the Jews.”

That does not mean, however, that the Johannine Gospel contains no history.  We ought, however, to read it with an awareness and understanding of the filters.

The story in John 5:1-18, as we have received it, is one of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, identifying God as his (Jesus’s) father, and contending with plots because of these actions and words.  According to the Law of Moses, the penalty for profaning the Sabbath is death, as is the punishment for committing blasphemy.  These were the charges against our Lord and Savior in the story.  The man Jesus healed even had to contend with charges of carrying his mat on the Sabbath (John 5:10).  He got off, though, for accusers found a “juicier” target.

Legalism–born out of respect for divine commandments–is misguided because it transforms the laws into idols.  A legalist is so lost among the proverbial trees that he or she cannot contextualize them within the forest.  Often attitudes and actions lacking compassion flow from legalism, as in the pericope from John 5.  Was joy that a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years was now able-bodied too much to muster?

Part of the socio-economic-political context of the story is the central role of Sabbath keeping in defining Jewish community, especially while living under Roman occupation.  Indeed, the importance of keeping the Sabbath as a way of setting the Hebrew community apart from its neighbors and its recent plight in slavery in Egypt forms part of the background of the Sabbath laws in Exodus 31:12-18.  I am not a rugged individualist, for I affirm that we humans depend entirely on God and rely upon each other and each other’s labor.  Others assembled the car I drive and paved the roads I paved the roads I travel on the way to work, for example.  A community focus in society can be positive, for we are all responsible to and for each other.  But community ought never to crush an individual.

Our Lord and Savior did more than heal on the Sabbath.  He and his twelve Apostles, for example, also gleaned food from fields, for they were hungry.  Some people criticized them for doing that too.  Jesus, in Matthew 12:3-4, Mark 2:25-26, and Luke 6:3-4, cited the precedent of David in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.  David, then fighting a civil war against King Saul, was hungry one day.  He acquired food by lying (claiming to be on a secret mission for Saul) to a priest, who gave him the Bread of the Presence, which only priests were supposed to eat.  To consume that bread was to commune with God, according to theology at the time.  The author of that story did not condemn David, but Saul condemned the priest to death for aiding an enemy.

Our Lord and Savior’s purpose in citing that precedent was to say that breaking ritual law in a time of need is permissible.  If saving a life, according to that standard, how is healing a man paralyzed for 38 years beyond the pale?  And how does anyone have so little compassion (if any) as to complain about the day of the week on which someone commits a good deed?

Identity matters a great deal, but compassion is more important.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLATO OF SYMBOLEON AND THEODORE STUDITES, EASTERN ORTHODOX ABBOTS; AND SAINT NICEPHORUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELDRAD, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RODERIC OF CABRA AND SOLOMON OF CORDOBA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-4-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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A Perfect Sacrifice   1 comment

Above: A Flock of Sheep

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Exodus 11:10-12:14 (An American Translation):

So Moses and Aaron performed all these portents before Pharaoh; but the LORD made Pharaoh stubborn, so that he would not let the Israelites leave his land.

Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,

This month shall be the first of the months for you; it shall be the first month of the year for you,’ announce to the whole community of Israel; ‘on the tenth day of this month they must provide for themselves one sheep each for their several families, a sheep for each household; if any household is too small for a sheep, it shall provide one along with its neighbor who is nearest to its own household in the number of persons, charging each for the proportionate amount of the sheep that it ate.  Your sheep must be a perfect male, a year old; you may take one of the lambs or goats.  You must keep it until the fourteenth day of this same month, and then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter it at twilight, and taking some of the blood, they must apply it to the two door-posts and the lintels for the sake of the houses in which they eat it.  That same night they must eat the flesh, eating it roasted, along with unleavened cakes and bitter herbs; do not eat any of it raw, nor cooked in any way with water, but roasted, its head along with its legs and entrails; and you must not leave any of it over until morning; any that might be left over until morning you must burn up.  This is how you are to eat it:  with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; you must eat it in trepidation, since it is a passover to the LORD.  This very night I will pass through the land of Egypt, striking down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt, I, the LORD.  The blood will serve as a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood, I will pass by you, so that no deadly plague will fall on you when I smite the land of Egypt.  This day shall be a memorial for you; so you must keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you must keep it as a perpetual ordinance….

Psalm 116:10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant;

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Hallelujah!

Matthew 12:1-8 (An American Translation):

At that same time Jesus walked through the wheat fields, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of wheat and eat them.  But the Pharisees saw it and said to him,

Look!  Your disciples are doing something which it is against the Law to do on the Sabbath!

But he said to them,

Did you ever read what David did, when he and his companions were hungry?  How is it that he went into the House of God and that they ate the Presentation Loaves which it is against the Law for him and his companions to eat, or for anyone except the priests?  Or did you ever read in the Law how the priests in the Temple are not guilty when they break the Sabbath?  But I tell you, there is something greater than  the Temple here!  But if you knew what the saying means,”‘It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for,” you would not have condemned  men who are not guilty.  For the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath.

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The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Overlapping material occurs in the devotion for Maundy Thursday, a link to which is here:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirty-eighth-day-of-lent-maundy-thursday/.

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What is a perfect sacrifice?  This question hinges on the word “perfect.”  In the Biblical context it means “suitable for its purpose.”  This is how Matthew 5:48 can quote Jesus as saying,

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect  (New Revised Standard Version).

Our story in Exodus jumps a few chapters from the burning bush incident to the latter stage of the plagues in Egypt.  The blood of a perfect sacrificial lamb smeared on one ‘s doorpost will be the sign of being spared from the death of the first-born.  The blood of the lamb will spare one from the sins of others-namely the Egyptian leadership, not oneself.  This is a vital point to understand, for to make the analogy of Jesus as Passover Lamb cannot support Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the idea that the blood of Jesus saves us from our sins.  No, the Atonement works differently, and blood is involved in it in a way I do not pretend to comprehend.  At St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, when I hold a chalice of wine and say

The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,

I mean it.  Whenever I say this to one particular gentleman, he says, “Thank God.”  That is an appropriate response.

I wonder why there was not passover blood for those little boys.  I have no easy answers.

So the Israelites are spared, but what about the Egyptians?  Are not their lives just as valuable?  I am not shy about arguing with the Biblical texts, for I engage them, not worship them.  The Bible is the most ubiquitous idol within Christianity.  This is not its purpose, but that is what well-intentioned people have made it.

Speaking of accidental idolaters, let us turn to the Pharisees.

Consider this verse:

When you enter another man’s field of standing grain, you may pluck ears with your hand; but you must not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain.

–Deuteronomy 23:26 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

And, of course, there is Hosea 6:6, also from TANAKH:

For I desire goodness, not sacrifice;

Obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings.

The reference to David comes from 1 Samuel 21:1-6, set during a time when David was on the run from King Saul.  David and his men were hungry, so, with the aid of a priest, Ahimelech, eat the only bread available–consecrated loaves reserved for priests.

Consider the context in Matthew.  Jesus has just completed his “Come to me, all who are heavy-laden” invitation. The day is the Sabbath, and his disciples are hungry.  They obey Deuteronomy 23:26 by reaping with with their hands.  Religious legal codes subsequent to Deuteronomy 23:26 forbade reaping on the Sabbath, and the disciples had violated this law.  Jesus replies by referring to David, whom the Pharisees revered, and to the fact that professional religious people worked at the Temple on the Sabbath legally.  So why is satisfying the basic human need to eat considered improper?

The verses following incident immediately tell of Jesus healing on the Sabbath.  He has to defend himself from criticism then, too.

William Barclay offers the most succinct analysis of the moral of these stories:

The claims of human need took precedence over any ritual custom.  (The Gospel of Matthew, Volume, 2, Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, page 23)

A previous owner of my copy wrote the following comment in the margin:

People more imp. than things!

Indeed, people are more important than things and ritual customs, and goodness and mercy are more valuable than sacrifices and legalistic proscriptions.  To quote Barclay again, this time from page 25:

Jesus insisted that the greatest ritual service is the service of human need.

This statement is so obvious to me that I stand in dismay at someone having to argue for it.  This should be a given, something people assume and to which they stipulate and then act upon.

So the service of human needs is the perfect sacrifice to God.  May we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this concept and act accordingly, as our circumstances dictate the particulars.

But lest we pat ourselves on the back and cast historical stones at the Pharisees, we need to examine ourselves spiritually.  The late Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr., a U.S. Presbyterian theologian, offered the following in the first edition of Christian Doctrine:  Teachings of the Christian Church (Richmond, VA:  CLC Press, 1968, pages 247-248):

One danger of the sacrificial imagery is that the significance of Christ’s work can easily be corrupted in the same way the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was corrupted.  It easily becomes a kind of bargaining with God.  A sacrifice has been offered to satisfy his demands and appease him–so now we are free go go on being and doing anything we like without interference from him.  How did the prophets protest against such a perversion of the sacrificial system?  See Isaiah 1:10-31; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8.  Is the prophetic protest against the misuse of sacrifices relevant also to our understanding of the sacrifice of Christ?  Would the prophets allow the split we sometimes make between preaching concerned with social action and preaching concerned with salvation from sin?

Think about it.  Pray about it.  Learn what God teaches, and act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 29, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS:  THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS BECKET, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF JOSIAH CONDER, ENGLISH ABOLITIONIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF AUSTIN FARRER, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN BURNETT MORRIS, JR., EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/week-of-proper-10-friday-year-1/

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Love, the Final Arbiter   2 comments

Above:  A Corn Field

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Hebrews 6:10-20 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed us for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.  And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the same assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

For when God made a promise to to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore to himself, saying,

Surely I will bless you and multiply you.

And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.  Men indeed swear by a greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, and a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Psalm 111 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the LORD!

they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor,

and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;

the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

He gives food to those who fear him;

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works

in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;

all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever,

because they are done in truth and equity.

He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever;

holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

his praise endures for ever.

Mark 2:23-28 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to him,

Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?

And he said to them,

Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him; how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the showbread, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?

And he said to them,

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The Pharisees (most, not all of them) are among the bete noires of the canonical Gospels.  These very publicly pious people criticize Jesus, his Apostles, and even some people he healed again and again.  In all likelihood these critics did what they understood righteousness to require of them.  I prefer to extend to them the benefit of the doubt; they were wrong, but sincerely so.  They did not wake up each morning and plot how to be difficult spiritually, although much of what they did and the Gospels report to us constituted such.

Indeed, I think that we need to check ourselves for signs of being contemporary counterparts of the Pharisees.  Christian denominations have built up traditions over thousands and hundreds of years.  Many of these are functional and constructive, even beautiful.  Yet even something useful and beautiful can become an idol, if we transform it into that.  And ossification of tradition can occur easily, rendering us inflexible in the habits of our minds.  The stories of Jesus teach us many valuable lessons, including the importance of avoiding such ossification.

Consider this day’s reading from Mark.  Jesus and his Apostles violated many sabbath laws observant Pharisees kept.  There were many arcane sabbath laws, which split hairs more finely than any Philadelphia lawyer.  Taken together, the sabbath laws permitted preventing an emergency situation from getting worse yet forbade making it better.  For example, one could apply a plain bandage but not ointment to an injured finger on the sabbath.  So you should not be surprised to learn that plucking and eating corn was illegal on the sabbath.  Doing so remedied hunger, but that meant making something better.

This is a twisted way to think about the sabbath, is it not?  It transforms the sabbath, which is supposed to a gift and a marker of freedom (slaves did not get days off) into a burden and something to manage with the help of a very long checklist of forbidden activities.  Puritans did it too, and many observant self-professing Christians and Jews continue to treat the sabbath in this way.  We should not neglect the sabbath, of course, but we ought not treat it like a burden and an occasion of legalism, either.

Back to our story….

Jesus reminded his critics of scriptural precedents for what he had done.  In 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Exodus 25:23-30, and Leviticus 24:9 we find the relevant information about David and the showbread.  Mentioning David, the revered king, was powerful rhetorical tool, although it certainly did not impress hyper-critical Pharisees.  It did, however, point out the hypocrisy of Jesus’ critics, who were not the intended audience for the Gospel According to Mark.  So the comment finds its target even today, at least some of the time.  I wonder, though, how often well-intentioned Christians miss the power of this story, perhaps more out of a “I know that story already” attitude, if nothing else.

William Barclay, in his insightful commentary on the Gospel reading, points out that

Religion does not consist in rules and regulations

and

The best way to use sacred things is to use them for men.

In other words, it is sinful to refuse to apply religious laws to prevent starving and very hungry people from eating–sabbath or not.  This principle applies to physical realities beyond hunger; it pertains to helping people with whatever distresses them.  Barclay concludes his section of the reading from Mark with this sentence:

The final arbiter in the use of all things is love and not law.

I could not have said it better.

We have a loving God and Lord.  The works of God are marvelous and utterly spectacular.  And Jesus became not only our priest but our passover lamb.  That demonstrates love, does it not?  So we ought to display love, as well, and not hide behind laws which reinforce self-righteousness and make excuses for oppressing people and not helping them.   We have a mandate from God to care for others and to love them as we love ourselves.  God has commanded us to care for the vulnerable among us.  We might make excuses for why we fail to do this, but that does not erase our sin in the eyes of God.

One of my favorite deceased people was the actor Andreas Katsulas (1946-2006).  He played the one-armed man in the film version of The Fugitive.  He also portrayed Commander Tomalok on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Ambassador G’Kar on Babylon 5.  Katsulas was a practicing Greek Orthodox and an excellent chef.  Part of his Sunday ritual involved cooking meals for homeless people.  This would have violated the Pharisees’ sabbath codes, but it did demonstrate love.

May we compete with one another in demonstrating love for our fellow human beings every day of the week.  Let us lay aside tendencies toward one upsmanship, self-righteousness, and public displays of piety meant to make us look good.  May we listen to one another more and more often, and shout at each other less and less often.  May we love one another in attitudes, words, and deeds.  May that be our law.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 23, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHURCHILL JULIUS, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ZEALAND

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/week-of-2-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

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