For Aug. 18, 2013: Proper 15, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 5:1-7

Today’s passage from Isaiah begins as a love song but rapidly turns bitter. Everything possible has been done to assure that the vineyard would produce a sweet, good vintage. Instead, the vineyard yields fruit that stinks: not justice (miṣpat in Hebrew) but spillage (miṣpaḥ) of blood, and not righteousness (tsedeqah) but a cry (tseʕeqah). As Isaiah explains, the errant vineyard will be laid waste—and it stands for God’s people.

The Response            Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

“Turn now, O God of hosts…; behold and tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted.”

The Epistle            Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Today’s reading from the book of Hebrews continues last week’s discussion. The towering figures of the Old Testament, and those who underwent bitter torment, are held up as examples of faith to follow—and yet, we are told, they had to wait for the fulfillment of the promises in Jesus.

The Gospel            Luke 12:49-56

“‘I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!’”

 

Further thoughts

Today’s readings induce squirms. The reading from Isaiah gives us God’s forceful renunciation and even repudiation of Israel: this squares uncomfortably with our sense of God as abounding in mercy. The Psalm, for its part, begs for God’s intervening, up to and including the annihilation rather than the redemption of others. The reading from Hebrews holds up as heroes the likes of Rahab the Canaanite whore and assorted practitioners of ethnic cleansing, Old Testament-style, and brings up that vexed word “perfect”. To top it all off, Jesus’ words as transmitted by Luke show us the Son of God and Prince of Peace as a fomenter of interfamilial strife; little wonder that preachers tend not to preach on the gospel this Sunday.

I wonder if the messages might be mixed on purpose, and, as the last three verses of the gospel suggest, much turns on how we interpret them. When bad things happen to me, should I not at least consider the possibility that my bad choices had something to do with it—but should I not also entertain the possibility that it is not be about me at all? When my foes come to the bad end that the Psalm requests, perhaps it is their wickedness, but might it be not about them at all, and have I any right to my barely suppressed snicker at their comeuppance? How am I to understand this word “perfect” in Hebrews when I know in my marrow that I am nowhere close, and how shall I manage not to make the goal of perfection a burden to those around me? What of the fact that even closely related people can and do disagree violently on how or whether to live life in Jesus? Does my belief entitle me to push the divisions however I can? Does it license me to press tracts and testimony on all comers at all times? If I don’t press tracts at all, am I simply trying to keep a peace that can’t be kept?

Is it even possible to have a faith that amounts to anything worthwhile without squirming?

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