Posts Tagged 'law of Moses'

For Feb. 16, 2014: 6 Epiphany, Year A

The Reading                                                      Ecclesiasticus 15:15-20

The book of Ecclesiasticus or Sirach was probably written in the second century BC, by a Hellenistic Jewish scribe who wrote not just for Jews but also for Greeks seeking answers about life and faith and God. Though this is one of the Apocrypha—the books outside the Hebrew Bible, the Torah—we in the Anglican Communion believe it to be well worth studying.

The Response                                          Psalm 119:1-8

We begin reading from Psalm 119, the longest psalm of the Bible with 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This first stanza could have inspired the reading from Ecclesiasticus, with its praise of the consequences of choosing to follow God’s law.

The Epistle                                                               1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The writer of Ecclesiasticus told us that it is up to us to choose to do what is right. The Epistle continues to point out ways in which the community at Corinth is falling short of what God wants: it matters much less who gets credit for this or that ministry than that the will of God for the growth and salvation of all of us be done.

The Gospel                                                                    Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus announced in the Sermon on the Mount last week (Matthew 5:17) that he came not to abolish but to fulfill the Law of Moses. Now he extends the law: to be his, it is not enough to refrain from killing, adultery, or swearing falsely. Whatever we do to treat others as inferiors or objects for our gratification is wrong.

 

Ponderables

As Epiphany season continues, its themes turn from the revelation of God entering our world to the revelation that the Kingdom of God is within us, messy humans that we are. Ecclesiasticus poses this in terms of a stark choice—fire or water, death or life—that does lies in our own hands, and the psalm praises the happiness of those who choose life through obedience to the Law. Paul takes a different tack to arrive at a similar destination: we cannot earn salvation through obeying the Law, but we do have choices in how we respond to the great gift of grace—and, tellingly, in how we extend grace to others.

As Jesus says, he comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In the gospel for 6 Epiphany he explains: the commandments prohibit murder, adultery, and other specific major offenses, but the point of them is for us to stand in love against anything or anyone that demeans or objectifies and estranges another human being. The prescription to cut off body parts sounds ghoulish to Western ears, but in Semitic society it was a very serious matter: one ate with one’s right hand only, so the effect of having that hand cut off was to disqualify one permanently from polite society. This difficult prescription is usually taken as hyperbole, but what if it is instead irony? What if we are the Kingdom of God, and we’re called to do our utmost to stand in love against alienation, both by those who estrange others—and by those who estrange themselves?

For Feb. 24, 2013: 2 Lent, Year C

The Reading            Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

In today’s first reading, God promises to childless Abram uncountably many descendants and the land between Egypt and Mesopotamia. This promise is sealed by a ceremony familiar to Abram: the parties to a contract would cut an animal in half and walk between the pieces declaring that, should they fail to do their part, they themselves ought to be cut in half. Here the fire pot and the torch represent God.

The Response            Psalm 27

The Epistle            Philippians 3:17-4:1

In the epistle today, Paul warns the Philippians about “enemies of the cross of Christ”. He is referring to those who insisted that Christianity means keeping the law of Moses, especially with regard to food and circumcision. Paul disagrees vigorously: God’s grace is for all of us believers, just as we are.

The Gospel            Luke 13:31-35

Further thoughts

Woven into today’s three readings are the concepts of promises and signs. In Genesis, old Abram receives two extravagant promises from God: he will possess the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea from Mesopotamia in the north to Egypt in the south, and he will have so many descendants he can’t count them. God seals his part of the deal by “walking” between the animals cut in half. Some years later, God extends the covenant and has Abram—now Abraham—seal his part of the deal through circumcising himself and all the males with him, and it is after that that Abram’s wife Sarai finally bears him a son. From that day to this, circumcision has been universal among Jewish men as a mark of their special covenantal relationship with the God of Abraham, along with the complex of special dietary laws that we know as “kosher”.

But in the epistle, along comes Paul to announce that neither the dietary restrictions nor the physical circumcision work to make us righteous; what’s more, bragging about what one is or isn’t or what one does or doesn’t do to be righteous is not only missing the point, it might even be poisoning the well.

For through Jesus’ willing and deliberate gift we are all as circumcised as we need to be and all as punished as we need to be. Whatever else we do should show not our human determination to Do It All Ourselves but our gratitude for the great gift of grace—and our willingness to share the grace with the whole world for which Jesus died.


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