Posts Tagged 'Proper 17'

For August 31, 2014: Twelfth Sunday in Pentecost, Proper 17, Year A

The Reading            Jeremiah 15:15-21

A jeremiad is a scathing denunciation of bad faith, in any of several senses. In Jeremiah 15:15-21 the prophet, who has proclaimed God’s word and been rebuffed, turns his anger and disappointment on God Almighty. The Lord chides Jeremiah, reminding him not to stop speaking precious words, but promises strength and comfort.

The Response            Psalm 26:1-8

Unlike Jeremiah, the composer of Psalm 26:1-8 seems not to have a bone to pick with the Lord. It is clear, though, that the psalmist is challenging the Lord with his integrity, trust, faithfulness, and innocence.

The Epistle            Romans 12:9-21

In the first reading, Jeremiah complained of being persecuted and insulted for speaking the words of the Lord, and the Lord promised him vindication and deliverance. Romans 12:9-21 takes a different tack, counseling Jesus’ followers to live in harmony with all and to overcome evil with generosity.

The Gospel            Matthew 16:21-28

On announcing that Jesus is the Messiah, Simon was renamed Peter and receives rabbi-like power to bind and loose in the kingdom of Heaven. In the verses that follow, he takes initiative, rebuking Jesus for predicting a horrible death—and Jesus calls him Satan. This kingdom must not be business as usual.


Further thoughts

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus stated that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church. Hades is not Hell, the place in which the wicked are punished eternally for their bad deeds. In fact, the ancient Greek concept of Hades comes close to the early Hebrew Sheol, where all souls go when they die. Like Hades, Sheol is a place of oblivion and obliteration: in the stark King James translation of Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, “The living know that they will die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Death cuts us off from life and the living and consumes our work and those we love, inevitably. And we can’t help but feel death as a cutting off from God, for the most compelling metaphors for faith and closeness to God all invoke life and breath: the word Spirit itself derives from the Latin spiro ‘I breathe’.

So Simon, newly named Peter and steward of Jesus’ life’s work, sensibly demands an end to Jesus’ talk about dying—and gets called “Satan” and “a stumbling block”. One wonders whether it’s that Peter is really so culpable in saying this, or perhaps that his plea to stay safe hits Jesus right where his own human body’s fear of dying intersects his divinity’s revulsion that such a waste as death even exists.

Yet, Jesus has already said, unstoppable death will no longer have the last word, for not even the prospect of death will stop him from laying himself down to conquer sin, separation, and death for the world he so loves.

He calls us to follow—literally, to come behind him. Does that mean dying exactly as Jesus did? For most of us, no. But what if Romans 12:9-21 sketches out the path? What if the task for me is to live, day by day, as though other people’s hopes and fears matter as much to me as I like to think I matter to 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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