Posts Tagged 'Psalm 19'

For Jan. 27, 2013: 3 Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

The Book of Nehemiah was written almost one hundred years after the exiles in Babylon rejoined those who were left behind in the ruins of Jerusalem. It was under Nehemiah’s direction that the city walls were finally rebuilt and the gates hung, and at long last all the people were brought together to hear the Law read and explained.

The Response            Psalm 19

The Second Reading            1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Paul today continues his counsel to the church at Corinth, expanding on last week’s insight that each of us is God’s gifted child. If we are in Christ, we are one body—and each of us needs all the gifts and guidance of the rest of us, in our function as “God with skin on”, to grow into the full measure of God in us.

The Gospel            Luke 4:14-21

 

Further thoughts

The CEO of Hilton International, Chris Nessetta, touts the hotel industry as requiring, and rewarding, a broad range of abilities and gifts. “We’re a very complex business… I mean if you’re interested in accounting, finance, tax, development, construction, marketing, you know, the online space… Every one of those and a hundred other things we do every day to make this business work.” He himself began, he says, by plunging toilets.

That breadth permeates today’s readings about the nature of life in the kingdom of God. The men and women of Nehemiah’s account—some of them returned deportees, others the remnant who eked out lives in a city crumbling around them—are hearing the Word read in Jerusalem and in Hebrew for the first time in decades. It is a day to feast, but first a day to weep for joy. Surely they would agree with the psalmist’s assessment of the Word of God as more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. Just as surely they recognize the thousands of small actions undertaken with thought and grace that make this glorious day possible.

The epistle and the life of Christ underline this point. Paul enumerates desirable gifts of the Spirit, yes, but not before emphasizing and reemphasizing the indispensability of even the least of us to the whole body of Christ. Jesus announces himself as the very fulfillment of the Law that had made Nehemiah’s people weep, but later, we know, he will stop en route to his execution to wash others’ dirty feet and he will take the time once arisen to gut, scale and broil fish for breakfast.

Solemn occasions and grand spiritual gifts have their place, certainly—but in this world, toilets need plunging. Glorifying and enjoying God is not a matter of dazzling display on special occasions but rather of going our way every day, sleeves rolled up, to live out God’s call and to seek God’s good in each other’s faces.

For Sept. 16, 2012: Proper 19, Year B

The Reading                                             Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1

The book of the Wisdom of Solomon was not written by Solomon: it was written for Greek-speaking Jews between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. It is part of the Septuagint—the version of the Bible in use by Jews in Alexandria, Egypt—though we now take it as one of the apocryphal books. Today’s reading personifies wisdom as an agent of God, in terms that are echoed by the description of Christ in the letter to the Hebrews.

The Response                                             Psalm 19

The Epistle                                                  James 3:1-12

Psalm 19, carrying on the theme of wisdom, ends with a plea to God to keep us from presumptuous sins and to keep our words and thoughts acceptable to God. The extent to which it is imperative that we Christians watch our language—and to which we need God’s help to do so—is underlined, in this increasingly contentious election season, by the vivid metaphors in today’s reading from the letter of James.

The Gospel                                                  Mark 8:27-38

 

Further thoughts

A mantra of the tumultuous 1960s was “Tell it like it is.” The message was that someone under thirty had an obligation to convey the unvarnished truth to those who were too unhip, too co-opted by The Man, too bugged, too hung up, too not-with-it, or simply too over-thirty to be reckoned able to grasp it on their own—with or without the short squat four-letter words with which one might daringly unvarnish it.

Aside from the four-letter words, some of which still do retain power to shock, it all sounds a bit quaint now, and in the phrasing of Psalm 19 more than slightly presumptuous. That the end of Psalm 19 and the letter to James counsel us to watch our language is quite fitting. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer” is not so far from “O Lord, make my words tender and juicy today, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

Nevertheless, telling it like it is has much to recommend it. First, sometimes I don’t know what I know until I give it voice. Peter, being Peter, might not have fully have recognized Jesus as the Messiah until the words came out of his mouth. Second, I won’t find out what I don’t know until I get it out there for corroboration or correction. Peter needed to learn that he was right that Jesus is the Messiah but wrong about just what that means.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the “it” of “tell it like it is” properly embraces not just the bad news but the good news. Wisdom is the mirror of God and she does order all things well. The heavens do declare the glory of God, and it is marvelous. Jesus is the Messiah, sent because, in God’s terms, each of God’s children is so worth saving. The more we speak blessing to each other and the world, the more we speak God’s love into each other and the world—and the better we hear God’s love as well.

For March 11, 2012: Third Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Reading            Genesis 22:1-14 instead of Exodus 20:1-17

The reading from Genesis last week showed us the covenant through which God promised Abraham and Sarah their long-awaited son. This week Abraham is obliged to choose between the life of that son and obeying the command of the God who gave him.  It is a difficult story.

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 1:18-25

The first letter to the Corinthians addresses a church community in conflict: the groups that Paul calls “the Jews” and “the Greeks” have different ideas about many things, including who and what God must be. Their ideas of God are too small, however—and so are ours.

 

Further thoughts

For this Sunday’s Old Testament lesson, the Revised Common Lectionary has scheduled Exodus 20:1-17, the Ten Commandments. It resonates with today’s psalm on the power and magnificence of God and God’s decrees; it plays fairly well with the epistle to a community that is struggling to reconcile law and grace, and it works with the gospel as Jesus breaks some social conventions for the sake of the honor of God’s house.

Instead, we have Genesis 22:1-18; in English we call it “the Sacrifice of Isaac”, though it might go better under the Hebrew name Akidah, which means ‘binding’. Whatever its name, this reading is much harder to square with the celebratory tone of Psalm 19. How well it comports with the other readings depends on how one interprets it (and them, though to a lesser extent)—and its interpretation has been hotly debated over the centuries.

Commentators who take the Akidah at face value—Abraham giving the ultimate proof of his obedience—generally see it as prefiguring the sacrifice of Jesus, though the parallel is shaky as regards the consent of the victim, the identity of the wielder of the knife, the availability of a substitute, and even the whole affair as test.

Other commentators balk at the idea of a God who expects a human parent to knife his own offspring; some of these see in the passage a vivid way to forbid child sacrifice, which was widely practiced at the time, and a few suggest that Abraham—who had successfully confronted God to save the inhabitants of Sodom—failed God’s test by obeying when he ought to have resisted. This leaves us, however, with Abraham in a double bind: obey God but kill the son, or save the son but defy God.

A handful of commentators note that the text contains a misstatement and a significant silence. God calls Isaac Abraham’s only son—but Abraham has had another son in Ishmael, albeit a son he has expelled into the wilderness. The silence is that of Sarah: Isaac is indeed her only son, named by God for her laughter, but here she is not only voiceless but invisible. Did Abraham, gauging her probable reaction, keep her in the dark?

Perhaps this is where the Akidah connects with the epistle. Perhaps the signs and wisdom of Paul are demonstrations of power and esoteric secrets, and the call of Christ is to radical openness so that the love and counsel of the community can keep an individual from going off the rails.

Or perhaps Genesis 22:1-18 is simply a brutal, difficult text.


Enter your email address to subscribe to St Alban's Lections and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2 other followers