Posts Tagged 'gentiles'

For Dec. 22, 2013: 4 Advent, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 7:10-16

In the eighth century B.C., Jerusalem is under threat. Isaiah has advised fearful young King Ahaz to let God deal with it; here the Lord offers a grand sign as proof. Ahaz piously refuses—his faith is in an alliance—but he is given the sign anyway: a baby who won’t yet be weaned before the two enemy kingdoms are no more.

The Response            Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

Psalm 80, written in the time of Isaiah, is a corporate lament: all God’s people are suffering—in the striking metaphor of verse 5, eating and drinking tears by the bowlful. They ask for the light of God’s countenance. Christians tend to think of “the man of your right hand” as a prophecy of Jesus. But what if it actually means us?

The Epistle            Romans 1:1-7

The letter to the Romans is one of five epistles that is agreed to be by the apostle Paul. At the beginning of the letter, Paul introduces himself in a complex paragraph that sums up his mission: to declare to the Gentiles the salvation that God promised in the scriptures and delivered through the death of Jesus.

The Gospel            Matthew 1:18-25

The gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent relates the familiar story of Joseph, legally bound to Mary but both worldly and righteous enough to assume the usual explanation for a child he knows he hasn’t fathered. He is prepared to break the contract—privately, to spare Mary further shame—but God has other plans.

Ponderables

Signs loom large in today’s readings: signs rejected and signs accepted.

In the reading from Isaiah, King Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign: he has plans for an alliance with Assyria against the twin threat facing him, and he is not interested in any proof of God to the contrary. He fails to realize that allying with Assyria will make Judah an enemy of Babylon and lead to exile and the destruction of the Temple. The baby in the sign is most likely Ahaz’s own son, and was not named Immanuel, or ‘God with us’.

Psalm 80, from the time of the exile in Babylon, laments the suffering of God’s people: the metaphor in verse 5 suggests not only that the people are weeping tears by the bowlful, but also that tears are all they have to eat or drink. Suffering and darkness were taken as signs of God’s displeasure, so the psalm begs repeatedly for the light of God’s countenance. We think of “the man of your right hand” as Jesus—but what if it actually means us?

The epistle is a litany of signs in the scriptures. Unlike Ahaz’s faith, Paul’s is real, so he has accepted the Lord’s sign—the miraculous encounter outside Damascus—even to the point of abandoning his old life to bring the good news of Jesus to people with whom, as a proper Jew, he should never even have associated. And who are those people?  Well, we are.

The gospel, in telling the story of Mary and Joseph, takes the previously unremarked verse 14 from Isaiah 7 and elevates it to a prophecy of Jesus. Like Paul, Joseph is genuinely righteous; he intends grace in dealing with Mary, he is open to God’s signs, and he is willing both to receive grace and to give it in ways he had not planned. What a remarkable Abba or daddy for Jesus to grow up with! And what a model for us to follow!

For April 28, 2013: 5 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 11:1-18

This week’s reading from the book of Acts skips past Peter’s precedent-shattering visit to the Roman centurion and his family in Joppa to show what happens on his return to Jerusalem: he is grilled by the believers there, who have been taught from birth that they must keep away from Gentiles. How do we know who belongs to God?

The Response            Psalm 148

“Kings of the earth and all peoples… old and young together… let them praise the Name of the Lord.”

The Epistle            Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation this week closes with a vision of a redeemed world in which all the pain and grief that came into the world with Adam and Eve are no more. Strikingly, the holy city Jerusalem is not found far off in heaven: it comes as all our tears are wiped away by God’s own hand, and it comes to Earth.

The Gospel            John 13:31-35

“‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

 

Further thoughts

In this weary world it is impossible to love without grieving, because it is impossible to love without loss. Because not even mothers (whatever their small children may believe) can be in more than one place at one time, we suffer separations large and small; lacking God’s-eye insight into each other, we endure misunderstanding and being misunderstood. We grieve when others don’t live up to our expectations for them or when we don’t or can’t live up to theirs; we give each other grief, in more senses than one; and of course we grieve both for those who die before we were ready for them to—which takes in practically everyone—and, as we begin to see it coming, for our own death.

On some level we all know this. It is part of what makes Jesus’ charge to love another so darned hard: Sooner or later—sooner and later—it has to hurt, and hurt deeply. The reading from Revelation paints for us a luminous picture of a world in which that pain is no more… but Lord knows we’re not there yet.

One suspects that the believers in Jerusalem all went through some of this grief on Peter’s return to Jerusalem. One imagines brash, openhearted Peter rushing back to share the exciting news about the astonishing new definition of “God’s people”, only to hit the brick wall of the Judeans’ opposition; one visualizes the Judeans, horrified by accounts of Peter’s apparent dereliction and determined to make things as right as they possibly could. This situation could easily have led straight to impasse—to the sort of schism that has recurred, regrettably, throughout the history of religions and philosophies. Instead, however, both sides contained their disappointment and grief long enough for Peter to explain well and for the Judeans to listen well. They loved each other not only that much, but that well.

And perhaps that is exactly where the new Jerusalem is: not there in heaven, but here, and here, and here, in the hearts that we care for and cherish and in the hearts we miss with tenderness, in the praises we raise together and the prayers that we pray with and for each other, and in the drying of each other’s tears.

For Jan. 6, 2013: Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 60:1-6, 9

Isaiah, writing about seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, addresses Jerusalem: though she lies in ruins, the glory of the Lord has risen like daybreak! From all corners of the earth, from all of our own personal Babylons, all God’s children—all of us—shall stream home, whether or not Jerusalem was ever home, bringing wealth by the shipload and camel-caravan load in praise and thanks to the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

The Epistle            Ephesians 3:1-12

There are riches, and then there are riches. Isaiah and the Psalmist told us of righteousness streaming out from Jerusalem and material wealth streaming in. It falls to Paul, writing from prison to the Gentile church in far-off Ephesus, to explain: all that abundance from all the world is merely the thank-you for the gift beyond price, extended to all peoples, of salvation through Christ Jesus.

The Gospel            Matthew 2:1-12

 

Further thoughts

The readings for Epiphany are practically incandescent: not now the hushed and heart-melting glow of Mary’s tiny son in the straw, but Isaiah’s blazing light as a beacon for all nations, the psalmist’s righteousness and deliverance in the very hills and mountains, the dazzling insight given Paul of God’s plan for salvation, and of course the Star whose refulgence captures us if, like the eastern mages, we care to look and follow.

But Epiphany, unlike Christmas, reminds us that there is also darkness and that it is deep. That people are alienated from their homes and, ultimately, from each other is news neither to Isaiah nor to us. That the poor and lowly are merely the most afflicted by oppression, violence, poverty, and misuse of power was as evident to the psalmist in the ninth century before Christ’s birth as it is to us in the third millennium after. That rulers and authorities are badly in the dark was as clear to Paul as it is to any 21st century student of current events. And that terrified or even indignant rulers resort to dark deeds in order to maintain power is no less evident in the organized religion’s history of inquisitions, intifadas, and cover-ups than it is when Herod sends troops to massacre the boy babies of Bethlehem lest one of them grow up to challenge his right to his throne.

Thrones, even in a 21st-century democracy, are common. Though I’ve made a point of avoiding obvious ones, I find I occupy many: as parent, as customer, as teacher or assessor, as person who determines a budget or a schedule, even as driver in possession of right-of-way. I am aware of the temptation to occupy those little thrones like Herod—not I hope, to the extent of degrading someone simply because I could, but it’s hard to resist barking an order, delivering a snub or put-down, downplaying someone else’s gifts (or my own), even resisting the healing or the oversight I need.

The darkness, in short, is not just Out There, it is In Here, and Herod is my brother.

The Light that judges and redeems and heals and loves is thus not only for the Gentiles as well as the Jews but for the Herods out there as well as the ones in here. And it calls me to spend less time finger-pointing and more time following.


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