For July 6, 2014: Independence Day

The Reading      Deuteronomy 10:17-21, KJV

Deuteronomy 10:17-21 reminds us to be generous with foreigners as God has been generous with us. Reading these verses for Independence Day also reminds us that our independence is more by God’s gift than by human doing. In the English of 1611 (when the King James Bible was written), terrible meant not ‘bad’ but ‘worthy to be feared’.

 

The Gospel      Matthew 5:43-48

Whether the English is King James-era or today’s slang, Jesus commands us in verse 48 to be perfect as God is perfect. The context suggests that we are called specifically to love like God—and that is perfectly sobering.

 

Further thoughts

What I wrote for this time last year turn out to have anticipated a controversy of early July 2014. Once again St Alban’s is celebrating US Independence Day with a Eucharist based on the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of 1789, issued just a few years after the end of the Revolutionary War. Since the 1789 BCP’s lectionary does not distinguish July 4, we are taking the Old Testament and Gospel for Independence Day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, in the King James translation rather than the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) that the lectionary normally provides.

The 1928 BCP came into use ten short years after the end of what was then called the Great War, the European conflagration of nationalism that was the first major military venture of the United States as a world power; we know it as World War I. One expects, in response, celebratory verses about cities on hills, anointings, or victory, or perhaps admonitory verses that counsel preparedness, intemperance, or greater faith.

What we find, however, are two remarkable injunctions that all of us must love all of us. That these commands are addressed not just to individuals but to the community is less obvious in the modern English of the NRSV, in which you can denote one or many, but it is quite clear in the consciously archaic King James version, which carefully distinguishes plural ye and you from singular thou and thee. With “Love your enemies,” Jesus commands all his disciples—and us—to love widely and deeply, without regard to whom we see as right or wrong, good or bad, ours or theirs. The Deuteronomy writer’s “Love ye the stranger” explicitly calls all of us to care for those who are Not Us. Other translations render “stranger” as “alien” or “foreigner”: those in our midst who are not citizens, we are nevertheless called not to reject but to protect.

That love is how God loves, and that is the perfection to which Jesus calls us.

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