Archive for the ‘Reconciliation’ Tag

Job and John, Part XVI: Alienation and Reconciliation   1 comment

Above:  Statue of Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral, England

Image Source = Rebecca Kennison



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


The Assigned Readings:

Job 19:1-12, 21-27

Psalm 110 (Morning)

Psalms 66 and 23 (Evening)

John 8:1-20


Some Related Posts:

Job 19:

John 8:


The story of the woman accused of adultery and her near-stoning is one of those pieces of the oral tradition which fits better in some ways in the Synoptic Gospels, where it is not.  Scholars recognize this fact.  Yet I propose that its placement here in John is appropriate theologically.  I cannot attest to the veracity of the chronology.  For that matter, chronology is a matter on which the canonical Gospels disagree.  That fact, however, seems not to have troubled those early Church leaders who approved of the New Testament canon.  And it does not trouble me.  The Gospels are more theological than historical anyway.  And doubts regarding the chronology are irrelevant to my purpose today, for I take the text on its own terms.

As I reread parts of John 7 and 8, I noticed something striking:  Jesus saves the woman’s life at a time when people are plotting to kill him.  That is why the placement of this incident at this juncture in the Johannine Gospel works so well.  As to the woman’s story, I ask one two questions:

  1. Where was the man?
  2. And why did not her accusers care about that detail?

By law he should have faced the same penalty as she would have.  And, given the circumstances, so should have her accusers.  They let the man get away so that they could entrap Jesus.  They did nothing to prevent the act of adultery?  Thus they were complicit  in the offense.  Perhaps Jesus reminded them of this via whatever he wrote on the ground.  And, by the way, the accusers were creepy peeping toms.

I note another fascinating feature of the Johannine material.  There is a contrast between Jesus, the source of living water (7:38) and the light of the world (8:12) on one hand and such bloodlust on the other hand.  His enemies plotted not only to kill him but others–the woman in this account and Lazarus shortly later in the Gospel.  Indeed they lived in darkness–and, to sound like the Gospel of Thomas–they were that darkness.

The thread linking the readings from the Gospel of John and the Book of Job is alienation.  Job was alienated from his friends, his family members, his life, and his God.  Jesus was alienated (not by his choice) from many leaders of his own tradition.  Reconciliation is a mutual state; if only one party is willing but the other is not, there is no reconciliation.  Thus one party can create alienation.  And few activities create this reality more than plotting to deprive someone of his life.  May we be willing to reconcile–to restore wholeness with the other, to restore wholeness where dissonance has arisen.  Dissonance might remain, but may we not be the source of it.

Until the next segment of our journey….








Adapted from this post:


Posted November 6, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Job 19, John 8, Psalm 110, Psalm 23, Psalm 66

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The Folly of Revenge and the Quest for It   1 comment

Above:  Anger

Image Source = Petar Pavlov



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


The Assigned Readings:

Joel 3:1-21/4:1-21

Psalm 143 (Morning)

Psalms 81 and 116 (Evening)

Romans 12:14-13:14


Some Related Posts:

Joel 3-4:

Romans 12-13:


Egypt shall be like a desolation,

And Edom a desolate waste,

Because of the outrage to the people of Judah,

In whose land they shed the blood of the innocent.

–Joel 4:19, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures


Never try to get revenge:  leave that, my dear friends, to the Retribution.  As scripture says:  Vengeance is mine–I will pay them back, the Lord promises.  And more:  If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink.  By this, you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head.  Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.

–Romans 12:19-21, The New Jerusalem Bible



Versification of  parts of the Hebrew Bible differs depending upon whether one reads from a Protestant translation or a Jewish, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox one.  Such is the case in Joel, where 2:1-32 in Protestant versions equals 2:1-3:5 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox translations.  And Joel 4 in Jewish, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions equals Joel 3 in Protestant translations.


Vengeance is a primal emotions.  It jumps off the pages of the Book of Psalms.  Consider, O reader, these cringe-worthy lines:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites

the day of Jerusalem ‘s fall;

how they cried, “Strip her, strip her

to her very foundations.”

Fair Babylon, you predator,

a blessing on him who repays you in kind

what you have inflicted on us;

a blessing on him who seizes your babies

and dashes them against the rocks.

–Psalm 137:7-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

And how often have relatives of murdered people stated in public their desire for the death penalty for the guilty and cited revenge as it is a good thing?  Revenge poisons a person’s soul and does not undo the damage the perpetrator has inflicted.  There will be retribution for some from God, in whom there is also mercy.  I know the desire for revenge well, and I have had to rid myself of it.

As Paul advised,

As much as possible,and to the utmost of your ability, be a peace with everyone.

–Romans 12:18, The New Jerusalem Bible

Such matters involve more than one party, of course.  And, if not all parties consent to mutual peace, there will be no reconciliation.  I suppose that simply pursuing revenge–rather, leaving judgment to God–is the best possible outcome in such a case.  Getting on with one’s life is better for oneself than obsessing over a real or imagined injury.

Life is short, certainly in geological terms.  May we not mar our brief time on earth with the quest for revenge more than we have done so already.









Adapted from this post:


Posted October 5, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Joel 3, Joel 4, Psalm 116, Psalm 81, Romans 12, Romans 13

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This Is Really Hard….   1 comment

Above:  The Reconciliation Statue in the Nave of old Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, England, United Kingdom

Image Source = Rebecca Kennison



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.


Romans 12:1-17a (Revised English Bible):

Therefore, my friends, I implore you by God’s mercy to offer your very selves to him:   a living sacrifice dedicated and fit for his acceptance, the worship offered by mind and heart.  Conform no longer to the pattern of the present world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.  Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

By authority of the grace God has given me I say to everyone among you:  do not think too highly of yourself , but form a sober estimate on the measure of faith that God has dealt to each of you.  For just as in a single human body there are many limbs and organs, all with different functions, so we who are united with Christ, though many, form one body, and belong to one another as its limbs and organs.

Let us use the different gifts allotted to each of us by God’s grace:  the gift of inspired utterance, for example, let us use in proportion to our faith; the gift of administration to administer, the gift of teaching to teach, the gift of counselling to counsel.  If you give to charity, give without grudging; if you are a leader, lead with enthusiasm; if you help others in distress, do it cheerfully.

Love in all sincerity , loathing evil and holding fast to the good.  Let love of the Christian community show itself in mutual affection.  Esteem others more highly than yourself.

With unflagging zeal, aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.  Let hope keep you joyful; in trouble stand firm; persist in prayer; contribute to the needs of God’s people, and practise hospitality.  Call down blessings on your persecutors–blessings not curses.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in agreement with one another.  Do not be proud, but be ready to mix with humble people.  Do not keep thinking how wise you are.

Never pay back evil for evil.

Psalm 131 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

O LORD, I am not proud;

I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters,

or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait upon the LORD,

from this time forth for evermore.

Luke 14:15-24 (Revised English Bible):

(Still at the great dinner party at which Jesus was teaching…)

Hearing this one of the company said to Jesus,

Happy are those who sit at the feast in the kingdom of God!

Jesus answered,

A man was giving a big dinner party and had sent out many invitations.  At dinner-time he sent his servant to tell his guests, “Come please, everything is now ready.”   One after another they all sent excuses. The first said, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go and inspect it; please accept my apologies.”  The second said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to try them out; please accept my apologies.”  The next said, “I cannot come; I have just got married.”  When the servant came back he reported this to his master.  The master of the house was furious and said to him, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”  When the servant informed him that his orders had been carried out and there was still room, his master replied, “Go out on the highways and compel them to come in; I want my house full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited shall taste my banquet.”


The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Romans 12:

Matthew 22 (Parallel to Luke 14):


The passage that draws my attention is that from Romans.  The lectionary specifies Romans 12:1-16, but I have extended it by a half-verse, for how could I exclude 17a?  ”Never pay back evil for evil,” it reads.  Try preaching that and count the seconds until someone accuses you of being soft on defense, terrorists, et cetera.  But, as Paul wrote, we ought not to be conformed to the pattern of this world any longer.  So what is still wrong with us, that we find excuses not to practice the Golden Rule and seek the best for each other, that we justify economic and other forms of injustice, and seek ways to legitimate discrimination?  Why do we not recognize and draw out the gifts each has to enrich and ennoble the whole?

The answer is quite simple, and in more than one part:

  1. The current pattern of the world benefits many of us.
  2. We do not want to surrender our ill-gotten gains.
  3. We have accepted the prejudices of those around us.
  4. We are quite sinful.
  5. We are very weak.

One piece of Pauline advice stands out in my mind.

Call down blessings on your persecutors–blessings, not curses.  (12:14)

I had a persecutor (some would say a prosecutor) on my back once.  It was an unjust charge–one dropped, fortunately.  Yet that persecutor (prosecutor, some would say) put me through four months of emotional hell on earth first.  Did I call down blessings, not curses, on him.  What do you think?  Do I call down curses on him now?  No.  Do I call down blessings on him now?  No.

The gospel points out many of my shortcomings, and I struggle with them.  This struggle does indicate something positive, though, for I might not recognize my sin.  If I struggle with it, at least I acknowledge its existence.  It is not a perfect or ideal state, but it is better than embracing it.  On the other hand, I should not have a struggle, for the sin should not exist in the first place.  But this is where I am now.  It is a better place than where I have been, and, by grace, an even better spiritual state awaits me.

So, O reader, here is my challenge for you:    Read the advice in Romans 12:1-17a and seek your own shortcomings.  Then take them to Jesus and seek his help in winning the struggle with them.  We need not be perfect; indeed, our Lord knows that we will stumble often.  We do need, however, to go to him, and to keep going back.








Adapted from this post:


Posted May 9, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Psalm 131, Romans 12

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Forgiveness, the Way of Peace and Freedom   1 comment

Above: Forgiveness

Image Source = AK Pastor




Exodus 14:19-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said,

Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.

Then the LORD said to Moses,

Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

Psalm 114 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

When Israel came out of Egypt,

the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,

2 Judah became God’s sanctuary

and Israel his dominion.

3 The sea beheld it and fled;

Jordan turned and went back.

The mountains skipped like rams,

and the little hills like young sheep.

5 What ailed you, O sea, that you fled?

O Jordan, that you turned back?

6 You mountains, that you skipped like rams?

you little hills like young sheep?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,

at the presence of the God of Jacob,

8 Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water

and flint-stone into a flowing spring.

Or this alternative to Psalm 114:

Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The LORD is a warrior;

the LORD is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power–

your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said,

I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.  And Miriam sang to them:

Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.


Genesis 50:15-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said,

What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?

So they approached Joseph, saying,

Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.

Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said,

We are here as your slaves.

But Joseph said to them,

Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.

In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

3 He forgives all your sins

and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave

and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

5 He satisfies you with good things,

and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

6 The LORD executes righteousness

and judgment for all who are oppressed.

7 He made his ways known to Moses

and his works to the children of Israel.

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

He will not always accuse us,

nor will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our sins from us.

13 As a father cares for his children,

so does the LORD care for those who fear him.


Romans 14:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

and every tongue shall give praise to God.

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.


Matthew 18:21-35 (New Revised Standard Version):

Peter came and said to Jesus,

Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?

Jesus said to him,

Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

The Collect:

O God, because without you we are not able to please you mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sometimes the readings for any given Sunday, according to the Revised Common Lectionary, fit together smoothly.  Other times, however, they do not.  This happens most often during the Season after Pentecost.  The readings from Genesis, Romans, and Matthew mesh well, for they pertain to forgiveness.  But where is the forgiveness (especially for the Egyptians) in the Exodus lections?

I have written on the subject of forgiveness at least several times on my devotional blogs, for the lectionaries I have chosen to follow touch on this subject again and again.  What I have written stands; this is difficult for me.  Here is a prayer I wrote on February 27, 2011:

Gracious God, why is forgiving so difficult?

I know what I need to do, and I want to do it–

except when I do not want to do it.

Forgive me for this sin, I ask you,

and bestow grace upon me sufficient to enable me

to forgive others and myself,

so to live in Godly liberation with you and my fellow human beings.


Link =

On a different aspect, however…

Yesterday I taught another session of my World Civilization II course for Gainesville State College.  I spent most of the time discussing Islam, the Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Empire, and Western imperialism in the Middle and Near East, as well as indigenous reactions and responses to it.  One of the reactions was Wahhabism, the legacy of which includes the attacks of September 11, 2001.  I told the gathered students that resentments which flow from being on the colonial end of imperialism are understandable, but that resentment which festers for too long turns poisonous.  It devours the person who harbors the resentment(s) and therefore affects those around him or her.  And sometimes, as in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it it consumes a nation.  And, in the case of 9/11, it strikes far overseas.  How much better would world history have played out had more people combined forgiveness with their nationalism, instead of mixing militant religion with it?

But two wrongs do not make a right, and one person’s intolerance does not excuse corresponding intolerance.  The proper extinguishing agents for hatred are love and forgiveness, for they break the cycle.  If we do not break the cycle of hatred and violence, it will break us.  God offers us freedom in forgiveness; may we accept it and extend it ourselves and each other.





Adapted from this post:


Love and Forgiveness, Whether Mutual or Not   1 comment

Above:  Archbishop Desmond Tutu Breaking Down at a Hearing of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, April 1996

Image Source = Sunday Times



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.


Colossians 3:12-17 (The Jerusalem Bible):

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins.  The Lord has forgiven you; now must do the same.  Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.  And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body.  Always be thankful.

Let the message of Christ, in all its riches, find a home with you.  Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom.  With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Psalm 150 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


Praise God in his holy temple;

praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts;

praise him for his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the blast of the ram’s-horn;

Praise him with lyre and harp.

Praise him with timbrel and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe.

Praise him with resounding cymbals;

praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.

Let everything that has breath

praise the LORD.


Luke 6:27-38 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

But I say this to you who are listening:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.  To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you.  Treat others as you would like them to treat you.  If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect?  Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect?  For even sinners do that much.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect?  Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount.  Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return.  You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.  Give, and there will be gifts for you:  a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.


The Collect:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The excerpts from Luke and Colossians fit together well.  Both teach the Golden Rule.  This is an oft-quoted maxim.  Many people confess it with their lips then do not try to honor it with their lives.  And many of us who praise the Golden Rule with our words and try to live it discover quickly how difficult the follow-through can be.  We need to confess our failure to God, who is ready to forgive us.  Then we need to forgive ourselves for our weaknesses and others for theirs.  Together, ever striving to do better and trusting in God, we need to support each other in our struggles to do to others as we want them to treat us.

Sometimes this love and this compassion are mutual.  This was the vision of Jesus and Paul.  But human nature being what it is, such love and compassion are frequently one-sided.  When this is true, the person who does more than law and convention require does so as a free man or woman.  When there is dishonor, it belongs not to the inconvenienced and and wronged party, but to the one who inconveniences and wrongs.  Doing the right thing for the right reason places one on the moral high ground.

Consider examples of nonviolent action.  In my nation, the United States, in the 1960s, many civil rights activists engaged in sit-ins at segregated establishments.  They faced verbal and physical abuse, but did not resist.  In so doing, they denied their attackers any semblance of an excuse or justification.  What kind of person beats up a man or woman who refuses to fight back?  And what must the assaulter think about him or herself, assuming he or she has a conscience?  Furthermore, Mohandas K. Gandhi employed nonviolent tactics and buckets full of shame to liberate India from the British Empire.  He was a moral giant.

And what about forgiveness?  The Apartheid regime of South Africa perpetrated atrocities against dissidents.  But the Mandela Administration began a process of reconciliation, dependent on the telling of truth, of course.  It was a difficult process, but it helped to begin the healing process.  Jesus would approve, based on passages such as those from Luke for this day.

A fight grows larger, longer, and worse when more parties consent to it.  But what happens when someone opts out?  This principle informs my self-discipline.  Thus I prefer to avoid many arguments, especially when the other person is shouting at me.  I refuse to shout back or to react physically.  This prevents the situation from becoming worse.  Besides, two people yelling at each other is worse than one person shouting at the one who is silent.  Self-discipline is the wisest choice in such an occasion.   Often it angers the other person, but that is not my intention; it is merely an unintended consequence over which I have no control.  I am responsible for control of my own emotions, not those of another person.

This post marks my departure from Colossians for now.  The lectionary moves along to 1 Timothy, a very good book, too.  So a summary of the highlights of Colossians 3:18-4:18 follows:

  • 3:18-4:1 is a frequently proof-texted passage.  Wives and husbands, parents, and children, slaves and masters have obligations to each other.  Reading one verse, say 3:18 but not 3:19 distorts the meaning 3:18.  In 3:18-4:1 Paul does not recognizes anyone’s right to lord it over anyone.  Mutual respect is the overarching principle here.
  • Paul recognized the existence of slavery but did not challenge it.  He thought that he was living in the End Times, so social reform took a backseat to personal holiness in anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus.  But the Golden Rule requires some social reform, does it not?  I side with Jesus, not Paul, in this regard.
  • Those who believe differently than I do are not my enemies because they disagree with me.  But what Paul writes about how to deal with them is consistent with our Lord’s command to love one’s enemies.  Consider Colossians 3:5-6:  ”Be tactful with those who are not Christians and be sure you make the best of your time with them.  Talk to them agreeably and with a flavour of wit, and try to fit your answers to the needs of each one.”

Love, whether mutual or one-sided, is always better than hatred.  Antipathy enslaves us in resentment, but love liberates us to live compassionately.  What others think is of little consequence relative to what God commands.  God is love, and Jesus is the greatest indication of this truth.  So may we walk in love, with God’s help.








Adapted from this post:


Great Blessings Come With Great Obligations   1 comment

Above: The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain


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.


Joshua 3:7-17 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The LORD said to Joshua,

This day, for the first time, I will exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they shall know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.  For your part, command the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant as follows:  When you reach the edge of the waters of the Jordan, make a halt in the Jordan.

And Joshua said to the Israelites,

Come closer and listen to the words of the LORD your God.  By this,

Joshua continued,

you shall know that a living God is among you, and that He will dispossess for you the Canannites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites:  the Ark of the Covenant of the Sovereign of all the earth is advancing before you into the Jordan.  Now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from each tribe.  When the feet of the priests bearing the Ark of the LORD, the Sovereign of all the earth, come to rest in the waters of the Jordan–the water coming from upstream–will be cut off and will stand in a single heap.

When the people set out from their encampment to cross the Jordan, the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant were at the head of the people.  Now the Jordan keeps flowing over its entire bed throughout the harvest season.   But as soon as the bearers of the Ark reached the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the Ark dipped into the water at its edge, the waters coming down from upstream piled up in a single head a great way off, at Adam, the town next to Zarethan; and those flowing away downstream to the Sea of the Arabah (the Dead Sea) ran out completely.  The priests who bore the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant stood on dry land exactly in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel crossed over on dry land, until the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan.

Psalm 114 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


When Israel came out of Egypt,

the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,

2 Judah became God’s sanctuary

and Israel his dominion.

3 The sea beheld it and fled;

Jordan turned and went back.

The mountains skipped like rams,

and the little hills like young sheep.

What ailed you, O sea, that you fled?

O Jordan, that you turned back?

You mountains, that you skipped like rams?

you little hills like young sheep?

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,

at the presence of the God of Jacob,

8 Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water

and flint-stone into a flowing spring.

Matthew 18:21-19:1 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Peter approached him [Jesus] with the question,

Master, if my brother goes on wronging me how often should I forgive him?  Would seven times be enough?

Jesus replied,

No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!  For the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants.  When he had started calling in his accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him millions of pounds.  As he had no means of repaying the debt, his master gave orders for him to be sold as a slave, and his wife and children and all his possessions as well, and the money to be paid over.  At this the servant fell on his knees before his master.  ’Oh, be patient with me!’ he cried, ‘and I will pay you back every penny!’  Then his master was moved with pity for him, set him free and cancelled his debt.

But when this same servant had left his master’s presence, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a few shillings.  He grabbed him and seized him by the throat, crying, ‘Pay up what you owe me!’  At this his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and implored him, ‘Oh, be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’  But he refused and went out and had him put in prison until he should repay the debt.

When the other fellow-servants saw what had happened, they were horrified and went and told their master the whole incident.  This his master called him in.

‘You wicked servant!’ he said.  ’Didn’t I cancel all that debt when you begged me to do so?  Oughtn’t you to have taken pity on your fellow-servant as I, your master, took pity on you?’  And his master in anger handed him over to the jailers till he should repay the whole debt.  This is how my Heavenly Father will treat you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

When Jesus had finished talking on these matters, he left Galilee and went on to the district of Judea on the far side of the Jordan.


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.

Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.  Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise.  In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism.  In it we are buried with Christ in his death.  By it we share in his resurrection.  Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

At the following words, the Celebrant touches the water.

Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.

To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), pages 306-307

There is symmetry in the story of the Israelites.  They leave Egypt (and slavery) through parted waters and enter the promised land in the same way.  Each time God goes in front of them.  In the case of the reading from Joshua, the Ark of Covenant, an object of great mystical power, went before them.

At this moment I cannot help but recall a classic line from the Spider-Man background story.  His wise Uncle Ben said that with great power comes great responsibility.  Likewise there is a Biblical principle that with great blessing comes the responsibility to be a light to the nations, to serve God and to bring others to God.  Being chosen should never become an occasion of hubris.

And so, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets excoriate society for neglecting the poor, usually widows and orphans.  The proper sacrifice to God, they say, is not superficial fasting and other meaningless shows of insincere religion, but caring for each other in practical ways.  (See Isaiah 58:1-12, for example.)

This principle resides at the heart of the reading from Matthew.  As I wrote in yesterday’s devotion, Matthew 18 speaks of the coexistence of mercy and judgment with God.  And the parable in 18:23-35 is consistent with this, from the Sermon on the Mount:

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get….

–Matthew 7:1-2 (Revised Standard Version)

These can be difficult passages to digest.  At least they are for me.  I want God to forgive, not judge.  But God does both.  I choose to engage the Scriptures and to digest them, including the principle that I must forgive (something I can do only by grace) if I am to receive forgiveness.  This particular parable comes to my mind frequently, pushing me to extend graciousness to many people.

The first servant has somehow accumulated a debt he has no chance of paying back.  Yet this master takes pity on him and forgives the entire debt.  Nevertheless, this servant has a man who owes him a far smaller debt thrown into debtor’s prison.  (Aside:  I have never grasped the principle of debtor’s prison.  If someone cannot pay when a free man or woman, how can he or she pay when in prison?)  The master then treats the first servant the same way he (the servant) acted toward his (the servant’s) debtor.  This is poetic justice.

If we cannot forgive just yet, we can confess this sin to God and seek grace to reach that point.  This is a beginning, at least.  And I believe that God responds favorably to such requests.  We are weak, but God is strong.  At any given moment, especially when we die, may we be in the good graces of God, obeying divine guidance.  We will never achieve entire sanctification in this lifetime, but we can make progress, by grace.  But we must cooperate with God.

The waters of baptism mark outwardly new life in God and in the community of the Church.  Among the baptismal questions in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is this:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

The answer is,

I will, with God’s help.  (page 305)

We are all weak; may we be gracious toward one another, with God’s help.  This is our common vocation:  to foster goodwill, to love each other as ourselves, and to seek the best for each other.  Society will improve when more of us live this way.








Adapted from this post:


Judgment and Mercy, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Statue of Reconciliation, Coventry Cathedral, England

Image Source = Rebecca Kennison,



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.


Deuteronomy 34:1-12 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is facing Jericho.  And YHWH showed him all of the land, Gilead to Dan, and all of Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh and all the land of Juday to the far sea, and the Negeb and the plain, the valley of Jericho, city of palms, to Zoar.

And YHWH said to him,

This is the land that I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I’ll give it to your seed.’  I’ve caused you to see it with your eyes, but you won’t pass there.

And Moses, YHWH’s servant, died there in the land of Moab by YHWH’s mouth, and He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth Peor.  And no man knows his burial place to this day.  And Moses was a hundred twenty years old at his death.  His eye was not dim, and his vitality had not fled.

And the children of Israel mourned Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.  And the days of weeping, the mourning of Moses, ended.  And Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him, and the children of Israel listened to him.  And they did as YHWH commanded Moses.

And a prophet did not rise again in Israel like Moses, whom YHWH knew face-to-face, with all the signs and the wonders that YHWH sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and with all the strong hand and with all the great fear that Moses made before the eyes of all Israel.

Psalm 66:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Be joyful in God, all you lands;

sing the glory of his Name;

sing the glory of his praise.

Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!

because of your great strength your enemies cringe before you.

3 All the earth bows down before you,

sings to you, sings out your Name.”

Come now and see the works of God,

how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.

He turned the sea into dry land,

so that they went through the water on foot,

and there we rejoiced in him.

6 In his might he rules for ever;

his eyes keep watch over the nations;

let no rebel rise up against him.

7 Bless our God, you peoples;

make the voice of his praise to be heard;

Who holds our souls in life,

and will not allow our feet to slip.

Matthew 18:15-20 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

[Jesus continued,]

But if your brother wrongs you, go and have it out with him at once–just between the two of you.  If he will listen to you, you have won him back as your brother.  But if he will not listen to you, take one or two others with you so that everything that is said may have the support of two or three witnesses.  And if he still won’t pay attention, tell the matter to the church.  And if he won’t even listen to the church then he must be to you like a pagan–or a tax-collector!

Believe me, whatever you forbid upon earth will be what is forbidden in Heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be what is permitted in Heaven.

And I tell you once more that if two of you on earth agree in asking for anything it will be granted to you by my Heavenly Father.  For wherever two or three people have come together in my name, I am there, right among them!


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


A balanced reading of the lesson from Matthew must consider the following text:

What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you?  Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?  You desire and do not have; so you kill.  And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions….Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.  Be wretched and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brethren.  He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.  But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.  But who are you that you judge your neighbor?

James 4:1-3, 8-12 (Revised Standard Version)

The reading from Matthew concerns how to deal with what Volume VIII of  The New Interpreter’s Bible calls “dangerously errant members” of congregations.  The advice placed in the mouth of Jesus is quite practical, granting the “dangerously errant member” opportunities at repentance and reconciliation.  As in many other places in the Bible, judgment and mercy coexist.  One needs look no farther than Matthew 18.  The chapter also includes Jesus exalting the humility of children and telling a parable of a shepherd finding a lost sheep before this day’s reading.  Afterward, the chapter contains a commandment to forgive frequently and a parable about the necessity of forgiveness and the judgment one brings on oneself by refusing to forgive.

So it is vital to find one’s center in God and to remain there, living in love for God, oneself, and one’s fellow human beings.  Therein one finds peace with all three.  That, as a spiritual mentor of mine years ago might say now, is what is really going on here.

I conclude this devotion with a prayer by Jonathan Montaldo, from Lent and Easter Wisdom from Thomas Merton:  Daily Scripture and Prayers Together with Thomas Merton’s Own Words (Liguori, MO:  Liguori, 2007), page 65:

Reconcile my heart.

Give me the grace to ask forgiveness of those I have offended

and to forgive those who have offended me.

If I cannot at least pray for everyone,

I cannot be your disciple.

What you ask of me, Lord,

is a life’s work of reconciliation.

Let me at least begin to labor at forgiveness.








Adapted from this post: