Archive for the 'Year C' Category

For Dec. 28, 2014: Holy Name of Jesus

The Reading                                                            Numbers 6:22-27

The book of Numbers, named for the first census of the Israelites after their departure from Egypt, tells their journey from the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula to the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan. Here the Lord explains how the priests of Aaron are to bless God’s people: by putting God’s name on them.

The Response                                                           Psalm 8

Psalm 8 responds to God’s activity in Creation with wonder and praise. The God whose Word creates (as one of our Eucharistic prayers puts it) “galaxies, suns, the planets in the courses, and this fragile Earth” is the God who bends low to you and me—and the God who calls us to care just as tenderly for Earth and its resources.

The Epistle                                                               Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11 may be a very ancient hymn of the Church. This luminous passage names Jesus as God and human, humbled and then exalted, with the Name to which every knee shall bow as we saints below join in praise with the saints above, world without end.

The Gospel                                                               Luke 2:15-21

As Luke tells it, angels impart the great good news of the birth of the Savior to shepherds, and these rough outsiders hasten to adore him. Eight days later, in accordance with Jewish law (Genesis 17:9-14), the boy is circumcised and given the name Jesus, as the angel had told Mary in Luke 1:31 (and Joseph in Matthew 1:21).

 

Further thoughts

The feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated on January 1, eight days after Christmas Day; the timing reflects the practice of circumcising and formally naming a baby Jewish boy on the eighth day of his life in accordance with the Torah. This feast day raises some interesting issues in naming and inclusion.

In both tellings of the Annunciation, the angel tells one of the child’s earthly parents to name him Jesus. Matthew 1:21 adds a bit: the angel says, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The comment makes sense in Hebrew: the name would be Yeshua, a shortening of Yehoshua, which combines the YHW– element that refers to the Lord with a verb that means ‘deliver, save, rescue’. The name was then rendered into Greek (in which there is no “sh” sound, and the letter y is used solely as a vowel) as Iēsous Ιησουσ, with an –s suffix to make it masculine gender and a long e pronounced as in Spanish. Latin adopted this as Iesus.

As lower-case scripts emerged in Europe, a “swash” form of the letter I, with a curly tail, came into use at the beginning of a word before a vowel, yielding the occasional spelling Jesus. This letter J was not a fully separate letter in English until the 17th century, however, so the first edition of the King James Bible (1611) still spells the name Iesus. By that time, the French shift in pronunciation from “y” to “soft g” before a vowel, in progress as of the beginning of the twelfth century, had become standard in English. All that remained to produce the current pronunciation of Jesus was the Great Vowel Shift that has given English long e the pronunciation it has today.

Jesus has two other titles of interest: Messiah and Christ. We tend to think of Messiah as meaning ‘savior’, but the Aramaic word meshiach, borrowed into Greek and then Roman as messias, means ‘anointed’. It turns out that Christ means the same thing: it comes from Greek khristos ‘anointed one’. Jesus was first called crist (no H, no capitalization) in English no later than 830 AD; speakers of Old English were likelier to call Jesus Hæland ‘savior’ or more literally ‘healer’. Of course, none of those is a name he was given at birth.

Circumcision according to the Torah marks a boy as fully a Jew, a member of the community. It also marks Jesus as fully human and submissive to the Law. The apostle Paul—also a Jew who had been circumcised—concluded that circumcision was not necessary for Gentiles. Instead, what marks a fellow Christian as “ours” is anointing at baptism and at confirmation. The ritual embraces those of us who are not equipped for circumcision as well as all who are not Jews. This shift thus emphasizes the extension of grace through Jesus to all peoples. But what if the shift also stands as a reminder to me to rise to the challenge of being as nearly Christ as I can to all people, seeing each person through Jesus’ eyes and loving each one as “ours”?

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For Oct. 20, 2013: Proper 24, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 31:27-34

In this Sunday’s reading, from the closing chapters called the Book of Consolation, Jeremiah prophesies a new covenant, not written in stone but written on hearts because it is no longer between God and the nation as a whole but between God and each one of us.

The Response            Psalm 119:97-104

“I do not shrink from your judgments, because you yourself have taught me.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

This Sunday’s second reading counsels the young church leader to continue in belief that is founded on faith in Jesus and to persist in proclaiming the message “with the utmost patience in teaching”. Those with “itching ears” can as well be those who insist on biblical literalism as those who never open the book.

The Gospel            Luke 18:1-8

“‘And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?’”

 

Further thoughts

This Sunday’s readings deliver mixed messages, comforting even as they make us squirm.

The last several weeks’ readings from the book of Jeremiah have cemented for us his reputation as “the weeping prophet”. This Sunday’s closing reading begins with a promise to repeople, as plentifully as wheat in a field, the lands of Israel and Judah that were deserted in the exile. In addition, in place of the covenant with the entire nation—which required good-faith performance on both sides, with the result that, when the leaders led badly, the whole operation went off the rails—the Lord is instituting a new covenant with each individual, written on each heart. Great news… except that I can no longer legitimately blame the government or my dysfunctional family or my lousy job for my failures to love God and all those around me: it’s now all on me.

Could that be too much? The selection from Psalm 119 praises the individual relationship with God, perhaps to the point of preening or the pride that goeth before a fall. Salvation is individual, but its means are communal, and its ends are also: notice how much of the hard work recommended in 2 Timothy is work in community.

The parable of the widow and the crooked judge is a tidy little package with its moral right there in the first line. Parables rarely work that way. With respect to God and others, I am surely the Widow Nobody, with no more right to salvation or others’ intervention than God and they give me, and therefore the onus is on me to express what I need and to keep expressing it. But I am also the crooked judge, well-bribed by the baubles of the world or my own sense of entitlement to ignore the expressed needs of those around me, and the onus is on me to reject the goodies in favor of listening and responding to the cries of all the other Widow Nobodies. And thus may the Son of Man find faith on earth.

For Oct. 13, 2013: Proper 23, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Much of the book of Jeremiah predicts the doom and disaster that do indeed come to pass in the form of the defeat of Jerusalem, the razing of the Temple, and the exile in the land of the enemy. Jeremiah goes on to lament the losses—but life goes on, and this Sunday’s verses give God’s advice as to how.

The Response            Psalm 66:1-11

“Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 2:8-15

Wise words to a young and uncertain church leader continue in this Sunday’s reading from the second book of Timothy. The point of belief, whether or not it includes suffering like a criminal, is not to be “wrangling over words”—that is, sowing or abetting contention—but to follow Christ Jesus who died and rose and is faithful.

The Gospel            Luke 17:11-19

“‘Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’”

 

Further thoughts

The readings for this Sunday speak of alienation—but not of exclusion.

The Israelites in Babylon are unwilling resident aliens, chafing under defeat and exile in a land of foreign customs and gods and unsure how to worship with the Temple destroyed, for in no other place can one perform the rituals of sacrifice and atonement that the Torah commands. The firebrand Jeremiah counsels not opposition but accommodation, and prayers for good for the city to which they have been taken. They, and we, are reassured that God can be worshiped and served no matter where we are or among whom.

The author of 2 Timothy writes from the alienation of jail. He carries forward the faith that he won’t stop proclaiming among strange peoples on the strength of verses 11 to 13—which probably come from an ancient hymn, as reflected in the formatting on The Lectionary Page—and he reminds us that the gospel is not chained. But his warning Christians against “wrangling with words” ring true over the centuries: how easily we forge chains of doctrine that alienate our fellow Christians and also alienate the rest of the world.

Galileans are looked down on in Jesus’ time, as in the story of Nathanael: Galilee lies beyond despised Samaria, whose people worship God but not as the Jews do. Reduced to existing in the no-man’s-land in between are the lepers. In appealing to Jesus for mercy, they commit a breach of the Law; an alienating response or no response at all would be expected. Jesus instead bids them visit the priests, who have power to ban and lift bans (but not to heal). I can’t help wondering what it sounded like, for off they go—stung or stunned or strengthened, one can’t say—and the miracle happens. And then the further miracle happens: the Samaritan leper, the twice-alien, is the one who stops and turns around, giving thanks to God, and throws himself at Jesus’ feet. For gratitude is the miracle of the heart recognizing a gift and a home.

For Sept. 22, 2013: Proper 20, Year C

The Reading                                                                 Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Jeremiah the prophet is famous for angry denunciations of wickedness. Here is a little of that—“Why have they provoked me?” says the Lord—but much more of today’s reading is grief for the misery of the people of Israel. Gilead was known for balsam from which a healing salve was made, but no such medicine seems able to help. The theme is continued in Psalm 19.

The Response                                          Psalm 79:1-9

“We have become a reproach to our neighbors, an object of scorn and derision to those around us.”

The Epistle                          Gilead,                           1 Timothy 2:1-7

The second chapter of 1 Timothy begins by nearly commanding that we pray for authority figures. In those days a Christian who refused to worship Caesar could be put to death, and many Christians must have known of people who died for that reason. This strong recommendation challenged them, and challenges us, to think about how to deal with those rulers here and abroad with whom we disagree.

The Gospel                                                                            Luke 16:1-13

“‘If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?’”

 

Further thoughts

It is not too great a stretch to say that today’s readings center on debt and responsibility. Jeremiah mourns for God’s poor people, who are afflicted because those who should have known better (which is, on some level, each of us) have lived large and idolized all manner of things—graven images like those in Exodus are named, but perhaps also the self-images that we cherish at the expense of others’ images. The psalm points fingers at the heathen for destroying the Temple and Jerusalem, the City of Peace, but time and again God’s Peace is broken through our sin, which too often includes identifying “heathen” at whom to point fingers rather than identifying wounds to which to bring balm or healing—or apology. The epistle to Timothy declines to assign blame in favor of urging prayer for everyone; not only does its “everyone” hold us to pray even for rulers whom we might consider enemies, but its “prayers” explicitly include giving God thanks for (and upholding the dignity of) those we may find most difficult. Maintaining everyone’s dignity truly is everyone’s job. Jesus’ parable is puzzling and astonishing, especially when a wage worker’s responsibility to plan alone for retirement rises while the wages to fund that retirement recede. The fact is, however, that only God truly owns anything anyway: when we die, our assets pass to others or back to God. Why not cook the books in the service of love, then? Why not freeze the interest and slash the principal on the debts we think we are owed by friends or family or the world at large? Why not be spendthrift with God’s wealth in the name of God’s love?

For Sept. 15, 2013: Proper 19, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

In the late sixth century before Christ, the reformer king Josiah, who had begun to lead Israel back to a right relationship with God, died in battle. He was succeeded by sons who failed to follow his example, under whom God’s chosen people continued breaking God’s law in letter and spirit. Today’s prophecy from Jeremiah is vivid and, for those of us who know drought, earthquake, and wildfire, horrifyingly familiar in our own time.

The Response            Psalm 14

“Every one has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad; there is none who does good; no, not one.”

The Epistle            1 Timothy 1:12-17

The author of the letters to Timothy may or may not be the man we know as Saint Paul or the Apostle Paul—the letters were probably written a generation later—but this towering hero of early Christianity paints himself as having been the worst offender against God, to whom nevertheless God saw fit to extend mercy. There might just be hope for the rest of us.

The Gospel            Luke 15:1-10

“‘I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’”

 

Further thoughts

Among the themes of the epistle and gospel readings for Proper 19 is surely seeking and finding.

The gospel gives us God’s determination to mount a search-and-rescue operation for the lost: sheep by sheep, coin by coin, sinner by sinner. Jesus’ choice of exemplars is as striking as his choice of dinner companions: shepherds were stereotypically grimy, uncivilized losers, and ordinary women were outside the terms of the covenants. But shepherds and women are Jesus’ chosen stand-ins for the seeking, finding, , rejoicing-in-the-lost God, and we the lost (or at least self-misplaced) can properly take comfort in the prospect of being both God’s found and God’s finders. Similarly, whether or not 1 Timothy was composed by the saint himself or (more probably) by a second-generation wannabe, this lesson is clear: if the likes of sinful Saul can be sought and found and straightened out by God, so can anyone else, including even me.

In the psalm and the Old Testament, however, the LORD is seeking but not finding the righteous—and in Jeremiah’s prophecy, disaster is promised as a consequence. It will begin with the hot wind: farm folk in that part of the world would toss threshed grain in the air so the wind could blow away the chaff—but this wind will blow as though from the very mouth of Hell, and the quaking fields and black, birdless skies both cause and result from the absence of worthy grain. Hope is not altogether gone: in the psalm God will shield the afflicted, and even Jeremiah’s exasperated Adonai adds, “yet I will not make a full end.” But the people who ought to be leaders in righteousness are instead the source of affliction and wickedness.

This brings us back to Saint Paul, self-proclaimed foremost of sinners. Consider his sins, however: sins not of the body or of unclean hands, but sins of hardness of heart. In God’s eyes, clearly, there are worse things than being a nobody; failing to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” as Micah 6:8 resonantly puts it, is at the top of the list of those things.

For June 16, 2013: Proper 6, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21a

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel and the prophets during their reigns. In today’s reading from the first book, notorious King Ahab pouts because he wants land he does not own; Jezebel, his even more notorious wife, arranges for the land’s owner to be executed under trumped-up charges. It falls to the prophet Elijah to confront Ahab about his wrongdoing.

 The Response            Psalm 5:1-8

The Epistle            Galatians 2:15-21

As the second chapter of the book of Galatians opens, Paul defends his call to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. He makes a narrow point and a wider one. The first point, made in verses that we are not reading today, is that the circumcised and the uncircumcised are to share the good news together. This leads to his second point, which we read today: what justifies us with God is nothing whatever that we do.

The Gospel            Luke 7:36-8:3

“‘…her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.’”

 

 Further thoughts

Today’s readings present somewhat unappetizing views of righteousness. The psalmist tells us that God shuns the bloodthirsty and protects the righteous, but righteous Naboth is publicly humiliated and killed on trumped-up charges just so Ahab can take his land for a vegetable garden. Super-righteous Paul tells us just how far his super-righteouness goes in buying him justification with God: absolutely nowhere. Jesus’ host clearly believes he has done two extraordinarily generous and superior things in inviting this controversial itinerant preacher to dinner and in not making a public issue of Jesus’ gaucherie in allowing a “sinful woman” to touch him, and then Jesus sets him straight on, among other things, Simon’s unfortunate lapse from the standards for hospitality.

It is hard not to cheer when grasping Ahab and Jezebel finally reap what they have sown, and it may be even harder (because the consequences are less) not to feel satisfaction at Simon getting taken down a peg. This may not be altogether inappropriate: as we will see in the course of the summer’s lectionary readings, justice and equity are very much on the mind of God and so they ought to be on ours.

It is sobering, though, to realize just what Jesus has to say about that nameless woman: she loves extravagantly not because she is good or gifted but because she has been forgiven extravagantly.

What might the world look like if we forgave like that?

For June 9, 2013: Proper 5, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 17:8-24

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel, most of whom are not very faithful to God, and the prophets in those times, most of whom are faithful and often suffer for it. In today’s reading, the prophet Elijah goes outside of Israel and imposes on a widow who has fallen on very hard times that then get worse. Through his faithfulness and his compassion, God’s servant works a miracle.

Lection 1 pronunciation notes: “Zarephath” is ZARE-uh-fath; “Sidon” is SIGH-don

The Response            Psalm 146

“Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.”

The Epistle            Galatians 1:11-24

The church at Galatia was a mix of Gentiles and converted Jews; this could cause friction when the Jews expected the Gentiles to follow Judaic practice. In today’s reading, the apostle Paul sets out his biography for the Galatians with the goal of establishing both his background as a really good Jew and the insignificance of his background when it comes to salvation, which is strictly God’s to give.

Lection 2 pronunciation notes: “Galatia” is gah-LAY-shah; “zealous” is ZELL-us; “Cephas” is SEE-fuss; “Cilicia” is sill-ISH-uh

The Gospel            Luke 7:11-17

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”

Further thoughts

A thread that binds today’s readings together is of things not going according to plan.

The mourners in Nain know exactly where they are going and why and what will happen afterward: their friend and relative has died, so it is their duty to go get him properly buried, and then his mother is going to be destitute because that’s the way the world works. But other plans are in God’s works, and a fairly standard funeral procession turns into a unique celebration.

Saul of Tarsus knows exactly where he is going and why and what will happen afterward: he is going to save God’s people from the threat posed by people who keep preaching Jesus in spite of persecution; he will be a good guy in God’s eyes and a hero to Israel, because that’s the way the world should work. But other plans are in God’s works; the persecutor is turned around by the grace of God, and the proof that this is from God is that, though the message of grace is largely the same, Paul has absolutely not learned it from any human.

The widow of Zarephath knows exactly what she is doing and where it will end: she has no hope of protecting her son from dying of starvation, because that’s the way the world works, but she can at least feed him one last time before they starve together. But other plans are in God’s works, so the prophet from Israel says, and indeed he and they eat and live.

Elijah himself might be less certain. Zarephath, the first reading tells us, “belongs to Sidon”: it is not Israelite territory, and one senses that Elijah goes there only under orders. There, what he has heard from God comes to pass. So far, so good—but suddenly his hostess’s son sickens and dies. This is not in the script! Elijah seems in shock. He cries out at the injustice, then he does whatever comes into his head, and then he implores God… and, miraculously, the boy begins to breathe again, and grief and anger and self-blame give way to wonder.

That is precisely the message of Paul. Though my frailties and my losses bear down on me like the hand of grief on the mourners of Nain, like the hand of hunger on the widow of Zarephath, Jesus the merciful is ready to stop the bier with a touch, not because I deserve it but simply because, wherever I go and with whatever plans, I cannot help but be his.