Posts Tagged 'covenant'

For Oct. 6, 2013: Proper 22, Year C

The Reading            Lamentations 1:1-6

The book of Lamentations paints a vivid picture of the disaster foretold by Jeremiah: Jerusalem is conquered, the Temple is in ruins, and most of her people are in forced exile. Each detail reinforces the image of Jerusalem as an abandoned woman suffering grievously but justifiably: because she persistently broke the covenants, God has revoked God’s protection and promises.

The Response            Lamentations 3:19-26

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 1:1-14

Textual evidence suggests that the letters to Timothy were written in the apostle Paul’s name but some time after his death. The writer commends his addressee for carrying forward the faith of his grandmother and mother, at the same time exhorting him to hold fast to it and not to be ashamed either of the testimony to that faith or of suffering for it.

The Gospel            Luke 17:5-10

“‘Do you thank the slave for doing what he was commanded?’”

Further thoughts

This Sunday’s readings speak of loss, hope, and steadfastness.

The reading from Lamentations depicts Jerusalem friendless and deserted. Through the patriarchs and prophets God had promised Israel self-rule as a leader of nations, protection from her enemies, numberless sons and daughters who would never face exile, and a descendant of David always on the throne—if Jerusalem kept the covenants. She did not do her part. As a result she is now a client state at the whim of the Babylonian empire, her former allies have gone over to the other side, those few of her children who have not been marched away at gunpoint are in hiding, and the throne of David stands empty. Worse, the temple is desecrated and ruined, so there is no longer any place to perform the sacrifices and make the prayers that the Law commands.

Yet the response, also from Lamentations, sings of hope: all these calamities have come to pass—but pass, they will: what endures is God’s love, for God honors God’s covenant even when we do not.

The epistle was written in times as trying in their way. Most authorities place the time of writing toward the end of the first century AD: Jerusalem is in the control of the Romans, the temple is once again destroyed, and Christianity is still illegal. Timothy faces hardship, humiliation, and even death in the service of Christ Jesus. But Jesus has abolished death—not that any of us will stop dying physically or cease to have reason to grieve, but the Holy Spirit in us will guard us and keep us in the way of love.

The gospel counsels steadfastness. The disciples demand more faith, and are doubtless disappointed in Jesus’ response. First, he tells them that the abundance it takes to command a big tree to pull up roots and place itself where no tree belongs—a showy act, but far from practical—isn’t one of faith. Then he gives them a less spectacular but more durable vision: the slave who sees to the master’s needs first, not to garner glory but simply because that is how the everyday things that most need doing (and most give blessing) get done.

For August 26, 2012: Proper 16, Year B

The Reading            Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

The book of Joshua tells of the complete conquest of Canaan, though that conquest was more like a gradual encroachment. In any case, at the end of his long life, Joshua presents all the people with a choice: to follow the gods of the world around them or to enter into a covenant—a formal treaty—to be faithful servants of the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 34:15-22

The Epistle            Ephesians 6:10-20

The Old Testament lection omits the verses in which Joshua tells God’s people that they—we—are bound to fail to follow the Lord as we ought. Psalm 34:18 hints at the way out, and today’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians underlines it: what keeps us in righteousness is the power of the Lord.

The Gospel            John 6:56-69

 

Further thoughts

The lectionary selections today are an interesting mix. In the Old Testament reading, Joshua, having led Israel to ownership of Canaan, confronts the people of Israel with a choice between the old gods and The One God and more or less dares them to pick the right one. They brightly announce their allegiance to the Lord. The lectionary cuts off before the verses in which Joshua repeats the question, twice and with rising skepticism, then, after announcing that this is a covenant, tells them flatly that they’re going to fail at keeping up their end.

Joshua’s right, of course: when it comes to keeping covenants with God, they are—I am—no darned good. The flesh, as Jesus says, is useless. My insufficiency is partly a matter of meatheadedly human bad choices, but it is also simply that being righteous enough and compassionate enough and smart enough and simple enough and alive enough for God, all at the same time, takes more God-ness than even the best purely human being can manage under his or her own power. It requires more more than I can even really imagine.

Which leaves the unimaginable. The epistle offers God’s armor against superhuman enemies, which makes sense—but the gear is that of the Roman legions, who, though Rome has made Ephesus splendid and wealthy, are regarded with the esteem one reserves for playground bullies. In the gospel, Jesus presents as the means to salvation his own body and blood to be eaten and drunk—a flagrant violation of the foundational laws of the Torah, in which even animal blood is much too holy to take lightly, and thus literally unbelievable.

Both sets of instructions pull me way outside my comfort zone. That seems to be the point. I can’t plan or reason or bargain or scheme my way to being righteous and compassionate and smart and simple and alive enough for God. I can, however, say “Yes, with God’s help”—though with the package comes the sobering truth that God’s help may come to me from sources I’d thought myself better than or by means that may turn my world entirely upside down.


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