Archive for March, 2014

For March 2, 2014: Last Epiphany, Year A

The Reading                                                                  Exodus 24:12-18

Moses is called to Mount Sinai to receive from God the Law by which Israel is to live. We have a vivid description of Mount Sinai shrouded in cloud, with the glory of God appearing like a fire on the mountain. Who could fail to be transformed by such a vision?

The Response                                                  Psalm 2

Psalm 2 may have been written for the dedication or rededication of a king of Israel: announcing a ruler as son of God was common in the Middle East, as is depicting one’s national god as more powerful than the gods of other nations. Might it be that God’s scorn is reserved for those who believe that they are in charge?

The Epistle                                                                        2 Peter 1:16-21

Peter of Galilee went up a mountain on a hike with friends—and saw his teacher revealed as God’s own Son. The second letter of Peter, almost certainly composed in Peter’s name rather than by the apostle himself, retells the story to confirm that it is no myth but rather a lamp leading us to the Light.

The Gospel                                                                       Matthew 17:1-9

The gospel tells the story to which the day’s epistle alludes: Jesus is revealed as the Son of God by being both transformed and acclaimed—but only for a little while, and he hushes it up.

 

Ponderables

An epiphany is a revelation, and the last Sunday of Epiphany brings us more than one.

The Old Testament epiphanies are grand, obvious, and enduring. Exodus reveals God in mountain-enveloping cloud and “devouring fire”—the sort of conflagration from which residents of tinder-dry Southern California flee in terror. Psalm 2 shows God easily angered and dictating terms to rulers who have presumed to challenge either the rule of God or the rule of God’s representative.

The New Testament epiphany, retold in 1 Peter, shares some features with the Old Testament epiphanies: as in the psalm, Jesus is recognized as God’s own son; as in Exodus, Moses is present, though here it is not Moses but Jesus whose appearance is transformed; as in both Exodus and the psalm, God’s people are awestruck to the point of terror. But where Moses the prophet took advantage of that terror in ruling God’s people, Jesus doesn’t. To quote the Christmas carol, “mild he lays his glory by” to be born to and among us; he orders the disciples not to make a big issue of who he is and what he does; and he keeps laying his glory and pride aside as he deals with nearly all degrees and conditions of people, from those terrified, sick, or outcast up through the most powerful religious and political figures in Palestine. This is a far cry from announcing whose sin has invoked this plague or that natural disaster or demanding the legal right to refuse service.

So what if truly following God means not flaunting God?

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For Feb. 23, 2014: 7 Epiphany, Year A

The Reading                                                            Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Priests in Israel were Levites (that is, of the tribe of Levi), and the book of Leviticus begins by discussing the priests and their duties. Chapters 18 through 20 are called the “Holiness Code”; they lay out how all the people who are God’s are supposed to behave, and can make for uncomfortable reading.

The Response                                    Psalm 119:33-40

We continue reading from Psalm 119. This is the fifth stanza, called the heh section because in Hebrew each verse in it begins with the letter ה (heh). The psalmist prays to understand and follow the Law.

The Epistle                                                  1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23

The verses from Leviticus called us to be holy as God is holy. Paul tells us that we already are holy, for in this world God’s temple or dwelling place is in fact each of us—each one on the planet. What is more, we belong to each other: contrary to worldly wisdom, grasping for more will not make me better.

The Gospel                                                                  Matthew 5:38-48

As Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount continues, Jesus paraphrases Leviticus twice—extending it outward beyond our neighbor and calling us to love all as God loves. The difficult word perfect translates the Greek telios ‘complete’: the last verse might be rendered “Be as completely like God as you can be.”

 

Ponderables

Jesus misquoted Leviticus—with the goal of helping us to read Leviticus right.

The first quote, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”—alluding to Leviticus 24:19-21—is literally correct but subject to misappropriation. We quote it to justify what we feel we deserve from those who hurt us; we assume it assigns the minimum level of recompense that we are entitled to. In context, however, the verse specifies a maximum and so is not a spur to the human thirst for revenge but a curb. Jesus then goes even farther. If I truly follow Jesus, I should not be looking to get my own back, and I am not entitled to assume that other people intend to hurt or diminish me.

The second quote is a riff on Leviticus 19:18—but that verse does not counsel us to hate our enemies. In fact, the Leviticus reading specifies ways in which we are to deal lovingly with the poor, aliens, and people in our power. Jesus’ version reflects not what Leviticus says but where human wisdom—the human wisdom that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians—tends to take it. Then Jesus blows our interpretation apart. He tells us that our God loves everyone enough to send good things not just to those who, according to the world, deserve them, but also to those who don’t.

What if we all really gave as good as we have gotten?