Posts Tagged 'every good gift is from God'

For Sept. 2, 2012: Proper 17, Year B

The Reading            Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The book of poetry we call the Song of Solomon might have been written by Solomon himself in the tenth century before Christ, but the language also supports a date of composition hundreds of years later. Over the centuries it has been read as an allegory for God’s pursuit of humans, but it also works as a vivid, sensual celebration of human physical love. Interestingly, in much of the poem—as here—the voice is that of a woman.

The Response            Psalm 45:1-10

The Epistle            James 1:17-27

The letter of James was written between the mid-first century and the very late second century A.D. and most probably addressed to Jewish Christians. It is a collection of practical precepts for Christian living. Its emphasis on doing the word earned it the label “epistle of straw” from Martin Luther, who preached salvation by faith alone. Surely, though, good works should be the outcome of living in Christ.

The Gospel            Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


Further thoughts

This is, I think, a good Sunday to work backward through the lections.

The gospel tells us about Jewish washing for purity. The tradition was not as universal as Mark makes it, for an eminently practical reason: in that desert climate, water had to be fetched pot by pot from the well or the town fountain, and for water in such quantities one needed a bevy of housemaids. In short, this is purity only for those with money and power. Jesus is having none of it.

Jesus follows up with stern words: what makes me impure before God is nothing that a bath can help, it’s the bad behavior arising from our bad intentions—including our insistence that being right with God requires a certain form of ritual, a specific phrasing in prayer, or a particular dress code. The list opens with several big items that most of us may congratulate ourselves for avoiding most of the time, but then it closes with familiar universals such as envy, slander, pride, and folly. In the mirror that this holds up, I’m not a pretty sight.

The letter of James ends by boiling true religion down to this essence: looking out for the most marginalized in society and remaining unstained by the world. It also gives advice, especially pointed in a campaign season, to be quick to listen and slow both to speech and to anger. The view in the mirror only gets worse: who dares look?.

Before that, however, the letter makes an assertion that is easy to lose in guilt and shame, and anger, and that is that every act of generosity and every good gift is from God—every last one of them. That list includes good deeds done by people who don’t look or worship like my coreligionists: if the deed brings healing, it is of God. That that list also embraces, in the words of the Episcopal Rite 1, “our selves, our souls and bodies”—the whole package, with parts that aren’t named in Sunday school—is underlined, and with exclamation points and hearts, by the radiant, blessed, no-need-to-hide carnality of the Song of Songs. Less extravagant but just as important is seeing, in a tired, worn, shamefaced human being, the good gift of God.

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