For August 24, 2014: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 51:1-6

Isaiah prophesies hope in the daunting days after the return from exile in Babylon. Just as the Lord raised Israel from barren Abraham and Sarah, so also comfort and new life are coming to the Lord’s people and light for the peoples; even after the world ends—or we do—salvation and deliverance will come to stay.

The Response            Psalm 138

Psalm 138 is a psalm of thanksgiving to God for deliverance from trouble. The psalmist praises the name of the Lord: mighty enough to be praised by kings, yet nevertheless preserver of the lowly, and whose love is for always.

The Epistle            Romans 12:1-8

Isaiah 51:1-6 opened with a call to those who pursue righteousness. Romans 12:1-8, sketching out that pursuit, responds to the frictions between Jew and gentile in the church at Rome: we all bring to God’s table the gifts of God, and the gifts that each of us brings are all precious to our common good.

The Gospel            Matthew 16:13-20

After healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter near Tyre and Sidon, Jesus and the disciples travel to the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi, well north of Jewish territory. It is there, near a grotto and spring sacred to the pagan god Pan, that Jesus asks the disciples who it is that people say he is.

 

Further thoughts

The readings for Proper 16 are full of surprises.

Isaiah, in the rubble and desolation of post-exilic Israel, sings God’s promise to transform the ravaged land into the Eden that God designed it to be. That’s surprising enough, but then God will use Israel as a beacon of hope to draw other nations—pagans—to salvation and deliverance that will outlast even heaven.

The psalmist chimes in: the big shots on earth—who, as history shows, tend to be as supercilious to those they outrank as they are defensive toward anyone more powerful than they—will be so transformed by listening to the Lord that they sing the praise of the Lord for protecting the lowly from the big shots’ machinations.

Jesus chooses, of all places, a pagan shrine well outside Israel as the place to ask the disciples who they think he is. When Simon blurts out, “The Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus renames him and gives this rough fisherman the job of rabbi in deciding who and what is in or out of this new thing called a church.

Then the epistle instructs us to make of ourselves living sacrifices. That sounds messy enough—but the analogy of the body and its parts makes me wonder uncomfortably whether this means all of me. For all of me is not just the nifty attributes that I hope will make God and everyone pleased with me, but also the fears and the scars and the wretchednesses that I try so hard to hide.

What if it is God’s good pleasure to hallow and accept all of me that I place on the altar? And what if the salvation that outlasts even heaven, that humbles the mighty to praise, that brings all God’s children in, lives in the space where admitting my need blesses us both by giving scope for your gift from God to shine?

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