Archive for the ‘Greatest Commandment’ Tag

Finally, A Sincere Question!   3 comments

Above:  First Paragraph of the Shema in Hebrew

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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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Tobit 6:9-11; 7:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

When Tobias had entered Media and was already approaching Ecbatana, Raphael said to the youth,

Tobias, my friend.

He replied,

Yes.

Raphael said:

We must stay tonight with Raguel, who is a relative of yours.  He has a daughter named Sarah, but no other children, neither sons nor daughters.   You as her next of kin have the right to marry her and inherit the girl’s property….

As they entered Ecbatana Tobias said,

Azarias, my friend, take me straight to our kinsman Raguel.

So he took him to Raguel’s house, where they found him sitting by the courtyard gate.  They greeted him first, and he replied,

Greetings to you, my friends.  You are indeed welcome.

When he brought them into his house, he said to Edna his wife,

Is not this young man like my kinsman Tobit?

Edna questioned him,

Friends, where do you come from?

They answered,

We belong to the tribe of Naphtali, now in captivity at Nineveh.

She asked,

Do you know our kinsman Tobit?

They replied,

Yes, we do.

She said,

Is he well?

They answered,

He is alive and well

and Tobias added,

He is my father.

Raguel jumped up and, with tears in his eyes, he kissed him.

God bless you, my boy,

he said,

son of a good and upright father.  But what a calamity that so just and charitable a man has lost his sight!

He embraced Tobias his kinsman and wept; Edna his wife and their daughter Sarah also wept for Tobit.

Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock and entertained them royally.  They bathed and then, after washing their hands, took their places at the meal.  Tobias said to Raphael,

Azarias, my friend, ask Raguel to give me Sarah my kinswoman.

Raguel overheard this and said to the young man:

Eat and drink tonight, and enjoy yourself. There is no one but yourself who should have my daughter Sarah; indeed, I ought not to give her anyone else, since you are my nearest kinsman.  However, I must reveal the truth to you, my son:  I have given her in marriage to seven of our kinsmen, and they all died on their wedding night.  My son, eat and drink now, and may the Lord deal kindly with you both.

Tobias answered,

I shall not eat again or drink until you have disposed of this business of mine.

Raguel said to him,

I shall do so:  I give her to you in accordance with the decree in the book of Moses, and Heaven itself has decreed that she shall be yours.  Take your kinswoman; from now on belong to her and she to you, from today she is yours for ever.  May all go well with you both this night, my son; may the Lord of heaven grant you mercy and peace.

Raguel called for Sarah and, when she came, he took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias with these words:

Receive my daughter as your wedded wife in accordance with the law, the decree written in the book of Moses; keep her and take her safely home to your father.  And may the God of heaven grant you prosperity and peace.

Then he sent for her mother and told her to fetch a roll of papyrus, and he wrote out and put his seal on a marriage contract giving Sarah to Tobias as his wife according to this decree.  After that they began to eat and drink.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who fear the LORD,

and who follow in your ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus be blessed.

The LORD bless you from Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Mark 12:28-34 (Revised English Bible):

Then one of the scribes, who had been listening to these discussions and had observed how well Jesus answered, came forward and asked him,

Which is the first of all the commandments?

He answered,

The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’   The second is this:  ‘You must love your neighbour as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these.

The scribe said to him,

Well said, Teacher.  You are right in saying that God is one and beside him there is no other.  And to love him with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself–that means far more than any whole-offerings and sacrifices.

When Jesus saw how thoughtfully he answered, he said to him,

You are not far from the kingdom of God.

After that nobody dared put any more questions to him.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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THE SHEMA

Hear, Israel:  the LORD is our God, the LORD our one God; and you must love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments which I give you this day are to be remembered and taken to heart; repeat them to your children, and speak to them both indoors and out of doors, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them as a sign on your hand and wear them as a pendant on your forehead; write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

–Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (Revised English Bible)

The recent arc of the Markan narrative in the lectionary has been one of Jesus fielding insincere questions.  But, at the end of this part of the story, a scribe asks an intelligent and sincere question:  What is the greatest commandment.  This man receives a reply unlike the one Jesus had for the Sadducees just a few verses ago:  “You are so far from the truth!”  In this case, Jesus quotes the Shema, a duly famous part of the Law of Moses, and amends it:  We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The scribe agrees with the answer, and Jesus says that the man is near to the kingdom of God.  Did the scribe complete the journey?  The texts are silent on that point, but I hope the answer is affirmative.

Too often certain people and institutions who claim the Christian label become caught up in legalism and call this holiness.  For example, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) began in the 1800s as a Restorationist body claiming the Bible alone as its source of authority in matters of doctrine and practice.  For a while men were not allowed to wear neckties to church; the denomination was that strict.  The Anderson, Indiana, group liberalized by 1910-1911, when it permitted men to wear neckties to church.  This was one issue that prompted the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma) to break away; it opposed neckties.  (My source = Encyclopedia of American Religions)

In the 1960s, in rural Kathleen, Georgia, parents began to offer a regular Saturday night chaperoned dance at the fellowship hall of Andrew Chapel Methodist Church.  This was an event for local youth, so they would have something positive to do on the weekend.  One night, the pastor of a local Baptist church made an unfortunate scene at one of these dances when he complained loudly about all the allegedly sinful dancing taking place indoors.  Some of his parishioners were at that dance, and that pastor had to seek other employment shortly thereafter.  (My source = the United Methodist minister who had served as pastor of Andrew Chapel in the 1960s)

These are just two examples of what has happened when people seeking to obey God become so lost in the trees that they lose sight of the forest.  If we will focus on loving people as ourselves, for example, many details will fall into place.  It is laudable to love the Bible, but not to seek permission for every minute detail (such as whether it is proper to wear a necktie) in its pages.  And the denunciation of all dancing as sinful is an old saw, one that ought to die.

As Jesus reiterated, we need to love God fully.  After all, God loves us.  The Book of Tobit tells a fictional story of that love.  After the events of the previous excerpt from Tobit, the elderly blind man sends his son to Ectabana, in Media, to visit a family friend with whom Tobit had deposited money.  (Tobit and Anna needed the money now.)  The archangel Raphael, disguised as Azarias, a kinsman of Tobias, accompanies Tobit’s son to Ecbatana and helps ensure the successful match-making between Tobias and Sarah.  The divine healing of Sarah then Tobit is about to commence in the narrative.

The scriptures say that God wants to be gracious to us.  May we respond favorably to God and extend grace to others, as we have opportunity.  Yesterday I had the chance to be extraordinarily kind to a student experiencing a medical situation.  It will not derail her progress in my course; I will not permit it to do so.  I mention this for one reason:  Everything I have learned from my formative years tells me that my decision was the only proper one.  So, when the opportunity to function as an agent of grace presented itself, I never considered doing anything else.  Yes, I broke rules to do this, but God has broken rules in order to extend grace to many of us again and again.  I have learned the meaning of the words of Jesus:

Go and do likewise.

All praise to the God of mercy!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET OF SCOTLAND, QUEEN

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIUSEPPE MOSCATI, PHYSICIAN

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/week-of-proper-4-thursday-year-1/

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Idolatry, Again: Elijah Versus Prophets of Baal   1 comment

Above:  Elijah’s Sacrifice Consumed by Fire

Image Source = Cadetgray

1 Kings 18:20-39 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Ahab sent orders to all Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel.  Elijah approached all the people and said,

How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him!

But the people answered him not a word.  Then Elijah said to the people,

I am the only prophet of the LORD left, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men.  Let two young bulls be given to us.  Let them choose one bull, cut it up, and lay it on the wood, but let them not apply fire; I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, and will not apply fire.  You will then invoke your god by name, and I will invoke the LORD by name; and let us agree:  the god who responds with fire, that one is God.

And all the people answered,

Very good!

Elijah said to the prophets of Baal,

Choose one bull and prepare it first, for you are the majority; invoke your god by name, but apply no fire.

They took the bull that was given them; they prepared it, and invoked Baal by name from morning until noon, shouting,

O Baal, answer us!

But there was no sound, and none who responded; so they performed a hopping dance about the altar that had been set up.  When noon came, Elijah mocked them, saying,

Shout louder!  After all, he is a god.  But he may be in conversation, he may be detained, or he may be on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.

So they shouted louder, and gashed themselves with knives and spears, according to their practice, until the blood streamed over them.  When noon passed, they kept raving until the hour of presenting the meal offering.  Still there was no sound, and none who responded or heeded.

Then Elijah said to all the people,

Come closer to me;

and all the people came closer to him.  He repaired the damaged altar of the LORD.  Then Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob–to whom the word of the LORD had come:

Israel shall be your name

–and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD.  Around the altar he made a trench large enough for the two seahs of seed.  He laid out the wood, and he cut up the bull and laid it on the wood.  And he said,

Fill four jars with water and pour it over the burnt offering and the wood.

Then he said,

Do it a second time;

and they did it a second time.

Do it a third time,

he said; and they did a third time.  The water ran down around the altar, and even the trench was filled with water.

When it was time to present the meal offering, the prophet Elijah came forward and said,

O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel!  Let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God; for You have turned their hearts backward.

Then fire from the LORD descended and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth; and it licked up the water that was in the trench.  When they saw this, the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out,

The LORD alone is God, The LORD alone is God!

Psalm 16:1, 6-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives my counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave,

nor will your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy,

and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Matthew 5:17-19 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not suppose that I have come to do away with the Law or the Prophets.  I have not come to do away with them but to complete them.  For I tell you, as long as heaven and earth endure, not one dotting of an i or crossing of a will be dropped from the Law until it is all observed.  Anyone, therefore, who weakens one of the slightest of these commands, and teaches others to do so, will be ranked lowest in the Kingdom of Heaven; but anyone who observes them and teaches others to do so will be ranked high in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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I took notes for this post and drafted my comments a few days ago.  Now, as I type the final version, I have the first part of Mendelssohn’s Elijah playing.  It is appropriate timing, for the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is about to begin.

There was a real choice between Yahweh and Baal.  This day we have part of the account of the account of the duel of a sort between Elijah, speaking for Yahweh, and 450 prophets of Baal.  Yahweh wins despite seemingly improbable odds.  A fire on a drenched altar? Who had heard of such a thing?

The prophets of Baal, for all their pleading, dancing, and bloodletting, failed.  How could they not?  Baal was imaginary.  This was an unambiguous victory for Yahweh.  Yet the idolatry continued for centuries.  Some people are just stubborn, apparently.

“The Law,” in the context of the Gospels, has layers and aspects.  There are, for starters, the letter (economically and culturally specific to circumstances, which change and therefore fail to apply after a while) of the law and there is the spirit (not tied to circumstances) thereof.  There is the Law of Moses and then there are elaborations upon it which people have added over time.  Jesus is consistent with the best of these traditions (the spirit of the law), not the persnickety details the Gospel writers quote him as contradicting.

The audience for Matthew was Jewish Christian, so this was an important point for the author of that text to make clear.  Jesus was an observant Jew, albeit neither a Pharisee nor a Sadducee.  For Jesus performing merciful deeds was legal and commendable on every day of week.  In contrast, strict Pharisees allowed only the most basic first aid on the Sabbath, delaying more advanced medical attention until the next day.  ”Do the most good you can everyday,” Jesus said with this words and deeds, “including on the Sabbath.”

There is nothing sinful about that.

The choice between goodness and the Law and the Prophets, when one interprets the latter correctly, is an illusion.  When one follows our Lord and Savior’s admonition to love God fully and one’s neighbor as one’s self, the two commandments on which all the Law and the Prophets hang, one keeps the Law.

It is that simple–and that challenging.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 6, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/week-of-proper-5-wednesday-year-2/

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