Posts Tagged 'gospel'

For July 20, 2014: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11

The Reading            Isaiah 44:6-8

The earliest books of the Old Testament proclaim that the Lord God is the greatest of the gods. Isaiah 44:1-15 relates a different claim: that the Lord is the only god.

The Response            Psalm 86:11-17

Psalm 86 combines elements of lament—begging God for aid against enemies who despise both the psalmist and God—and praise. After extolling God’s graciousness, slowness to anger, and kindness, the psalmist asks for a sign of favor with which to shame the haters.

The Epistle            Romans 8:12-25

The early church in Rome included both Jews and former pagans, though not without disagreements. Paul explains humanity’s common birthright as adopted children of God: we all share in Christ’s glory, but we are also to share humbly in Christ’s suffering while we wait in hope for our redemption.

The Gospel            Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

We continue examining Jesus’ parables that use the imagery of plowing, planting, and harvesting, with his explanations. The “weeds” in this parable would probably have been darnel, a plant that looks a great deal like wheat until it ripens.

 

 

Further thoughts

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is the three-year cycle of Bible readings, followed with more or less fidelity by most Christian churches, that works from first verse to last through most books of the Bible. A challenge for the RCL’s makers is that the Old Testament, even without the psalms, comprises several times more text than do the epistles and the gospel taken together. To even things out, in Pentecost season the RCL splits just the Old Testament readings and apposite psalms into two tracks. Track 1 begins with Genesis and traces the covenants, falls, and redemptions of God’s children, while Track 2 focuses on prophecy, on calls for repentance or proclamations of righteousness. That a given day’s epistle and gospel tend to be about equally complemented by either track’s pair of readings is both intentional and remarkable.

The gospel readings for Propers 10 and 11 reflect a rare but sensible choice and a surprising choice. As the gospel of Matthew has it, Jesus tells a large crowd two parables and then the disciples urge him to interpret them. The rare but sensible choice is by the makers of the RCL, who allot each sermon-worthy parable and its explanation to a different Sunday: the parable of the sower for Proper 10 last week and the parable of the bad seed this week. The surprising choice that Jesus even complies with the disciples’ demand: he almost never explains parables, and these explanations are almost painfully literal and obvious.

How does this square with the other lections? Isaiah testifies that the Lord is not merely the greatest god but the only god, who alone knows the future, and the reason we are not to fear. The psalm celebrates this God’s graciousness and compassion. Yet, as the epistle notes, suffering and decay are inextricably part of this world: from birth onward we learn that there is plenty to fear in pain, sickness, shame, disaster, and death. As I write, we mourn the 295 passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines 17, including almost 100 AIDS experts bound for a conference, sacrificed for a political cause relevant to few or none of them. How can God foresee such evil and not forestall it?

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 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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