Posts Tagged 'Proper 23'

For Oct. 12, 2014: Proper 23, Year A

The Reading                                                                         Isaiah 25:1-9

Isaiah 25:1-9, written as disaster and deportation to Babylon loomed for God’s people, gives a startling series of images: the city ruled by foreigners lies in ruins, the poor have shelter from rain and heat, the Lord throws for all peoples the party of all parties, and death itself will be no more. What an invitation!

The Response                                                 Psalm 23

Psalm 23 can be read as following on Isaiah 25:1-9: it depicts the Lord as shepherd and protector of the psalmist’s soul, providing for the psalmist even in the face of the psalmist’s enemies and guiding the psalmist even through the valley of the shadow of death.

The Epistle                                                                 Philippians 4:1-9

The epistle to the church at Philippi, after requesting help to reconcile the feuding church ladies Euodia and Syntyche, ends with encouragement and challenge. The Philippians are to do three important tasks—rejoice; become notorious for being gentle; instead of worrying, pray—and to be open to the peace of God.

The Gospel                                                                    Matthew 22:1-14

Matthew 22:1-14 is the fourth of Jesus’ parables in response to the chief priests and the elders who have demanded that he tell them by what authority he was teaching and healing. It is hard to reconcile this king who readily slaughters and abuses the noncompliant with the view of God in the other readings for Proper 23.

 

Further thoughts

Three of the readings for Proper 23 are easy to discuss. Isaiah 25:1-9 describes the celebration at the end of time to which all God’s children will be welcome, at which all will be fed, and in which all our griefs and shames will be redeemed for all time in the presence of all peoples. The much-paraphrased and much-sung Psalm 23 personalizes the vision for the future while reminding me that God my loving Shepherd is with me in the trials of the present. Philippians 4:1-9 gently concedes human frailty while focusing us on the practices of rejoicing, gentleness, and prayer. What beautiful portraits of the surpassing goodness of God!

But then there’s Matthew 22:1-14: the parable of the king, his invitees having disrespected his servants, who salves his wounded pride by burning down a whole city and then having other servants frog-march all comers to fill the banquet hall; when one poor schlock thus corralled up shows up without the right clothes, the king humiliates him before throwing him into what clearly amounts to Hell.

Over the centuries this parable has been taken as proof of God’s demand for purity; it has been used to justify shocking behavior against Jews, infidels, non-Europeans, and even fellow Christians on the other side of a doctrinal dispute. Some recent analyses propose, however, that this parable is not about God at all. As Paul Nuecheterlein and D. Mark Davis tell it, Jesus is describing the kingdom as his audience of chief priests and Pharisees sees it: a place where the accepted response to any perceived slight against those in charge is violence and more violence. But consider how the Son of God actually acts in the world. Tempted to show off, he declines. Faced with humiliation and the most brutal of deaths—the worst that his enemies can throw at him—he spurns the vengeance that will justify their brutality by taking it seriously. Instead, in the words of Psalm 23, Jesus chooses not to fear their evil, and in so choosing he ends in himself the cycle of retributive violence.

What if we were to live out our trust in Jesus by making the same choice?

 

Nuechterlein, Paul J. 2008. “When a squirrel is just a squirrel.” Sermon. Web. http://girardianlectionary.net/year_a/proper23a_2008_ser.htm. Consulted 8 October 2014.

Davis, D. Mark. 2014. “The Kingdom of the Heavens vs. the Kingdom of a Human King.” Left Behind and Loving It. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-kingdom-of-heavens-v-kingdom-of.html. Web. Consulted 7 October 2014.

For Oct. 13, 2013: Proper 23, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Much of the book of Jeremiah predicts the doom and disaster that do indeed come to pass in the form of the defeat of Jerusalem, the razing of the Temple, and the exile in the land of the enemy. Jeremiah goes on to lament the losses—but life goes on, and this Sunday’s verses give God’s advice as to how.

The Response            Psalm 66:1-11

“Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 2:8-15

Wise words to a young and uncertain church leader continue in this Sunday’s reading from the second book of Timothy. The point of belief, whether or not it includes suffering like a criminal, is not to be “wrangling over words”—that is, sowing or abetting contention—but to follow Christ Jesus who died and rose and is faithful.

The Gospel            Luke 17:11-19

“‘Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’”

 

Further thoughts

The readings for this Sunday speak of alienation—but not of exclusion.

The Israelites in Babylon are unwilling resident aliens, chafing under defeat and exile in a land of foreign customs and gods and unsure how to worship with the Temple destroyed, for in no other place can one perform the rituals of sacrifice and atonement that the Torah commands. The firebrand Jeremiah counsels not opposition but accommodation, and prayers for good for the city to which they have been taken. They, and we, are reassured that God can be worshiped and served no matter where we are or among whom.

The author of 2 Timothy writes from the alienation of jail. He carries forward the faith that he won’t stop proclaiming among strange peoples on the strength of verses 11 to 13—which probably come from an ancient hymn, as reflected in the formatting on The Lectionary Page—and he reminds us that the gospel is not chained. But his warning Christians against “wrangling with words” ring true over the centuries: how easily we forge chains of doctrine that alienate our fellow Christians and also alienate the rest of the world.

Galileans are looked down on in Jesus’ time, as in the story of Nathanael: Galilee lies beyond despised Samaria, whose people worship God but not as the Jews do. Reduced to existing in the no-man’s-land in between are the lepers. In appealing to Jesus for mercy, they commit a breach of the Law; an alienating response or no response at all would be expected. Jesus instead bids them visit the priests, who have power to ban and lift bans (but not to heal). I can’t help wondering what it sounded like, for off they go—stung or stunned or strengthened, one can’t say—and the miracle happens. And then the further miracle happens: the Samaritan leper, the twice-alien, is the one who stops and turns around, giving thanks to God, and throws himself at Jesus’ feet. For gratitude is the miracle of the heart recognizing a gift and a home.

For Oct. 14, 2012: Proper 23, Year B

The Reading            Job 23:1-9, 16-17

The book of Job, composed between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, poses one of the great questions of life: if God rewards virtue, why do bad things happen to good people? In today’s reading, as Job grieves in ashes for his children and his lost wealth, he demands a hearing with God—and he is terrified that God is no longer anywhere for him.

The Response            Psalm 90:12-17

The Epistle            Hebrews 4:12-16

Today’s reading from the book of Hebrews continues to explain to a Jewish audience why and how Jesus is the Messiah. The word of God here refers not to scripture but to God’s ongoing revelation and discernment of our hearts; unlike Job, however, our judge is Jesus, who knows exactly what it is like to be human.

The Gospel            Mark 10:17-31

 

Further thoughts

The lectionary today gives us some difficult and chewy food for thought. It was accepted wisdom in Judaism that God always rewards the virtuous with material wealth and therefore that loss or absence of the good things of life was a sign of guilt. This is the assumption that Job’s friends in the fourth century BC made earlier in the book when they called upon him to confess the sin that must have impelled God to take away all of his children, all of his wealth, and even his health. It is also a source of the shock and grief of the man whom Jesus instructed to sell his possessions—for they were his badges of rightness with God—and of the subsequent astonishment of the disciples. To put it in 21st century terms that are all too common, if even God’s evident favorites can’t enter the kingdom, what hope is there for the other 98%?

Job resists his friends’ insistence that he find a sin to repent: to have earned the depth of grief, destitution, and pain he is in, he would have to have behaved viciously, but his conscience is clear. In any case, even if Job deserved punishment, how is it just to his ten children to kill them? It follows logically that, whatever the source of these disasters, it is not God’s justice. Job retains enough confidence in his friends to challenge them to their faces, rather than just writing them off as idiots; today’s reading follows that outburst—and, significantly, enough faith to challenge God, too, even angrily. He is aware that God is not a merchant bartering righteousness for goodies. He who dies with the most toys doesn’t win: he simply dies like everyone else.

Here may be the root of the rich man’s quandary, and often ours. We understand buying and selling and scarcity: we give up time to gain income or income to gain time; we trade money for goods and services, and if we hand over more money we expect better stuff or a greater return; all in all, it seems sensible, and we tend to expect that God’s favor also is to be bought, whether with money or power or charm or good behavior.

But the kingdom of God operates differently. We come into the world with nothing except our skin and what lies within it—and even that is on loan. What gets us into God’s good graces is simply God’s good graces, through the sacrifice of Jesus, and what keeps us believing that that grace is there for us is giving love to and receiving love from each other.


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