Archive for the 'Colossians' Category

For Nov. 24, 2013: Last Sunday in Pentecost, Year C

The last Sunday in Pentecost is also known as Christ the King Sunday, and the lections for the day reflect this.

The Reading            Jeremiah 23:1-6

The English word “jeremiad” is based on the prophecies of Jeremiah, most of which are bitter denunciations of bad behavior that leads to bad results for Israel. Today’s reading starts out that way, as bad shepherds are called to account—but then, behold: God announces something new.

The Response            Psalm 46

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

The Epistle            Colossians 1:11-20

In the first century A.D., the little church at Colossae in western Turkey bubbled over with theories about angels and other supernatural powers and with questions about the nature of Jesus. This Sunday’s passage explains in terms that are reminiscent of our Nicene Creed: Jesus is God’s firstborn and God’s champion on our behalf.

The Gospel            Luke 23:33-43

“‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him.”

 

Further thoughts

What does “king” mean, and how does that change when it’s predicated of the Son of God?

That the rights of kingship are easily abused is an article of faith in the US; we vacillate between being skeptical of kinglike figures and adulating them. Sports and entertainment stars loom like kings in terms of the attention they attract and the cultural influence they have. Billionaire owners or executives of big corporations won’t draw thousands to a concert, but they are kingpins or kingmakers whose riches buy them political clout equal to hundreds of thousands. It is prudent to assume that any human with great power can and will do whatever he chooses, whenever he chooses. Thoughtless or even evil acts are not entirely unchallengeable, but we recognize that the process is likely to bring the challenger humiliation and pain and possibly defeat.

Some lore of kingship goes in a very different direction, however. In most of the ancient world, the king was consort of the land itself, personally responsible for it; if his health declined, its health did too, and his individual virtue was embodied in its fertility. The touch of a true king could even heal diseases. This is power exerted to serve, and it is reflected in Jeremiah’s vision of the coming Davidic king as a righteous shepherd of his people. We understand this as real leadership: using the power at one’s disposal to do right.

The epistle depicts Jesus as infinitely more powerful than any earthly king. Because Jesus is also depicted as infinitely more good, he can be expected to do right—but when he seems to fail to intervene in stopping this natural disaster or illness or that madman with a machine gun, we feel devastated and deserted.

Then there’s the vision of kingship that the gospel gives us. Hanging on a cross. In unspeakable humiliation and agony. Verbally and physically abused for being who he can’t help being. Wrongly accused by ignoramuses whose hate-filled faces look unsettlingly like our own. Taking it and taking it, all of it.

Why doesn’t this King teach these wretches a lesson?

Because he is teaching them and us a greater lesson: to love as he loves, not because he makes us but because it’s what the world needs.

And that is what it means to reign as the Son of God.

 

For August 4, 2013: Proper 13, Year C

The Reading            Hosea 11:1-11

In last week’s reading from the beginning of the book of Hosea, God is frustrated to disgust with Israel’s unfaithfulness. At the end of the book, God remains exasperated—but, as the poem that is today’s reading shows, God’s compassion for God’s children exceeds even our capacity to wander.

The Response            Psalm 107:1-9, 43

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.”

The Epistle            Colossians 3:1-11

The Old Testament reading and Psalm today paint vivid pictures of God’s persistent mercy for God’s children. The epistle to the Colossians follows up on this point: if we truly participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, then it is our responsibility to live according to Christ’s example in our treatment of all of God’s children.

The Gospel            Luke 12:13-21

“But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’”

 

Further thoughts

The speaking voice in the book of Hosea sometimes sounds like the voice of the infinitely merciful God we know from the New Testament, but sometimes it sounds terrifyingly like a human father lashing out at a child’s rebelliousness or a human spouse seething that once again the house isn’t tidy and dinner isn’t on the table at 6 p.m. because, after all, the mother of the infant and toddler has nothing else to do. I can’t help wondering if the shaming really is God’s voice, or rather whether it’s a projection of some of our problematic human tendencies to shame others as a way of deflecting attention from our own shame. If Hosea went into his marriage with Gomer convinced that she would stray as predicted, his comportment is likely to reflect that. What if Hosea had argued with God, not necessarily about the command to marry Gomer, but about the need to identify her before the fact as a slut? What if that was a test? And, harking back to the destruction of the world, what if the call to build the Ark came to more than one person, but all the rest blew it off? Or what if Noah had argued for mercy?

For the point of the readings today is not the wrath and the name-calling. Even Hosea, in this reading, shows us God too much in love with God’s people to destroy them. The letter to the Colossians, for its part, calls us to abandon a series of sins all of which have to do with abusing, pulling rank on, and looking down on others: instead, our thank-you for God’s mercy is to extend to others the grace we have received from God. And I think one point of Jesus’ remarks in Luke is that both the person in the crowd and the rich man in the story are too concerned with getting or keeping their own share. Whether the good things of God are material or spiritual, they are intended to be shared as openhandedly as they have been given.

The big question, then is how we can remember, as individuals and as a community, to live into that call.

For July 28, 2013: Proper 12, Year C

The Reading            Hosea 1:2-10

The prophet Amos over the last two weeks condemned Israel in terrifying terms for defrauding the poor. The book of Hosea is even more shocking and graphic: at God’s command, Hosea tells us, he marries a woman who will cheat on him flagrantly, to symbolize Israel’s faithlessness—and, eventually God’s capacity for forgiveness.

The Response            Psalm 85

“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

The Epistle            Colossians 2:6-19

The church at Galatia, with its mix of Gentiles and converted Jews, seems to have experienced a good deal of friction about how to eat and drink and celebrate rightly as a Christian. Paul reminds the Galatians and us that what matters is that we are made right with God through the sacrifice of Jesus: the rest is human thinking.

The Gospel            Luke 11:1-13

“‘How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’”

 

 

Further thoughts

The story of Hosea and his bride is difficult to read. The command by God Almighty to find a whore, or at least a woman who will certainly both sleep around on Hosea and make sure he knows all about it, and marry her surely contravenes both Talmudic law and the considerable weight of what custom has to say about the purity of the woman one marries. The language is incredibly alienating: the wife is depicted as not merely unfaithful but repugnant, and the children are given abusive names that signify brutality (Jezreel was the site of Naboth’s house that King Ahaz coveted and it was where Ahaz and Jezebel were killed), callousness, and unwantedness. It has been suggested that verse 10, which reverses the second and third children’s names, was added by a later hand; this verse takes some of the sting out of what precedes, but we’re still left with a blameless man holding his nose while condescending to marry someone that no sane man should want.

The epistle and gospel make a much bigger shift. The reading from Colossians depicts the sacrifice of Jesus as the product not of God’s contempt but of God’s love; the benefits of whatever Jesus underwent in this world are extended to us if we simply believe in his Name—including a key ritual, circumcision, for which the female body has no good analogue—and everything else is just window dressing prescribed by humans. In the reading from Luke, Jesus’ disciples probably expect an arcane and stately ritual when they ask to be taught to pray; they want something that marks them off from others as insiders. Instead, Jesus gives a format that a two-year-old could master in which God Almighty is “Daddy” and the “we” includes the whole of God’s beloved world.

For July 21, 2013: Proper 11, Year C

The Reading            Amos 8:1-12

Though his book is near the end of the Old Testament, the prophet Amos is an earlier figure—and, as we saw last week, uncomfortably forthright. In today’s reading, God puns on the Hebrew words for ‘summer fruit’ (qayits) and ‘end’ (qets) to announce that dishonest dealing and abuse of the poor will no longer be overlooked: misery and mourning are coming for all, and the Word of God will be nowhere to be found.

The Response            Psalm 52

“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, but trusted in great wealth and relied upon wickedness.”

The Epistle            Colossians 1:15-28

Like the prophecy of Amos, Psalm 52 predicted disaster on account of wicked dealing, though the psalmist says that the good will be unscathed. Today’s reading from the book of Colossians describes Christ risen and reigning, first and firstborn: it is through Christ alone—not through the rules we obey nor those we enforce on others—that any of us humans can hope to be reconciled to the goodness of God.

The Gospel            Luke 10:38-42

“‘There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”

 

Further thoughts

“Busy” is an unusual word, and for more reasons than the peculiarity of its spelling. Unlike many other basic vocabulary items in English whose roots go back to Proto-Germanic or even Proto-Indo-European, busy is known only in English, Dutch and Low German. In late Old English the adjective bysig meant ‘occupied’ or ‘diligent’, and one’s bysignes was what kept one busy. By the late fourteenth century bisynesse could mean one’s occupation.

In the prophecy of Amos we see these senses applied: those whom the Lord excoriates have been diligent in taking opportunities to enrich themselves on the backs of the poor and needy, by selling short measure and defective goods at high prices. They are, to borrow Scrooge’s characterization of Marley in A Christmas Carol, “good men of business”. Scrooge intends it as a compliment—but Dickens, Amos, the psalmist, and we know better, or so I hope. As Marley retorts, “Mankind should be our business!”

Bysig has an earlier meaning, however: ‘anxious or concerned’. An Old English translation of Luke 10:41 reads Ðu eart carful ond bysig ymbe fela ðing ‘ you are care-filled and busy about many things’. Martha was not merely bustling about, in other words: she was frazzled, and possibly beginning to lose her grip. I don’t think Jesus intended to disparage her. This is, after all, the guy who made it his business to save a wedding by changing water into wine. I think he was inviting Martha for at least a little while to join her sister: his presence and Mary’s, and hers, and that of each of us, is much more important than whether the napkins are folded correctly or the butter is cut into tidy pats.

The reading from Colossians underlines this point: the business of Christ Jesus is to be God and man, first and firstborn from the dead, Creator and Wisdom and Brother whose sacrifice is what makes each of us justified before God; and our business is to follow Jesus as we can, spread the Word, and in our own ways be the Kingdom of God come near to a world that can’t stand the smell of itself otherwise.


Enter your email address to subscribe to St Alban's Lections and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2 other followers