Posts Tagged 'Psalm 8'

For Dec. 28, 2014: Holy Name of Jesus

The Reading                                                            Numbers 6:22-27

The book of Numbers, named for the first census of the Israelites after their departure from Egypt, tells their journey from the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula to the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan. Here the Lord explains how the priests of Aaron are to bless God’s people: by putting God’s name on them.

The Response                                                           Psalm 8

Psalm 8 responds to God’s activity in Creation with wonder and praise. The God whose Word creates (as one of our Eucharistic prayers puts it) “galaxies, suns, the planets in the courses, and this fragile Earth” is the God who bends low to you and me—and the God who calls us to care just as tenderly for Earth and its resources.

The Epistle                                                               Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11 may be a very ancient hymn of the Church. This luminous passage names Jesus as God and human, humbled and then exalted, with the Name to which every knee shall bow as we saints below join in praise with the saints above, world without end.

The Gospel                                                               Luke 2:15-21

As Luke tells it, angels impart the great good news of the birth of the Savior to shepherds, and these rough outsiders hasten to adore him. Eight days later, in accordance with Jewish law (Genesis 17:9-14), the boy is circumcised and given the name Jesus, as the angel had told Mary in Luke 1:31 (and Joseph in Matthew 1:21).

 

Further thoughts

The feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated on January 1, eight days after Christmas Day; the timing reflects the practice of circumcising and formally naming a baby Jewish boy on the eighth day of his life in accordance with the Torah. This feast day raises some interesting issues in naming and inclusion.

In both tellings of the Annunciation, the angel tells one of the child’s earthly parents to name him Jesus. Matthew 1:21 adds a bit: the angel says, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The comment makes sense in Hebrew: the name would be Yeshua, a shortening of Yehoshua, which combines the YHW– element that refers to the Lord with a verb that means ‘deliver, save, rescue’. The name was then rendered into Greek (in which there is no “sh” sound, and the letter y is used solely as a vowel) as Iēsous Ιησουσ, with an –s suffix to make it masculine gender and a long e pronounced as in Spanish. Latin adopted this as Iesus.

As lower-case scripts emerged in Europe, a “swash” form of the letter I, with a curly tail, came into use at the beginning of a word before a vowel, yielding the occasional spelling Jesus. This letter J was not a fully separate letter in English until the 17th century, however, so the first edition of the King James Bible (1611) still spells the name Iesus. By that time, the French shift in pronunciation from “y” to “soft g” before a vowel, in progress as of the beginning of the twelfth century, had become standard in English. All that remained to produce the current pronunciation of Jesus was the Great Vowel Shift that has given English long e the pronunciation it has today.

Jesus has two other titles of interest: Messiah and Christ. We tend to think of Messiah as meaning ‘savior’, but the Aramaic word meshiach, borrowed into Greek and then Roman as messias, means ‘anointed’. It turns out that Christ means the same thing: it comes from Greek khristos ‘anointed one’. Jesus was first called crist (no H, no capitalization) in English no later than 830 AD; speakers of Old English were likelier to call Jesus Hæland ‘savior’ or more literally ‘healer’. Of course, none of those is a name he was given at birth.

Circumcision according to the Torah marks a boy as fully a Jew, a member of the community. It also marks Jesus as fully human and submissive to the Law. The apostle Paul—also a Jew who had been circumcised—concluded that circumcision was not necessary for Gentiles. Instead, what marks a fellow Christian as “ours” is anointing at baptism and at confirmation. The ritual embraces those of us who are not equipped for circumcision as well as all who are not Jews. This shift thus emphasizes the extension of grace through Jesus to all peoples. But what if the shift also stands as a reminder to me to rise to the challenge of being as nearly Christ as I can to all people, seeing each person through Jesus’ eyes and loving each one as “ours”?

For June 15, 2014: Trinity, Year A

The Reading            Genesis 1:1-2:4a

For Trinity Sunday, we read about the beginning of the universe as we know it. The word “wind” in verse 2 (the Hebrew word is ru’ach) could as well be “breath” or “Spirit”. Creator and Spirit therefore exist from before the beginning—and everything that comes from the Breath, including you and me, is very, very good.

The Response            Psalm 8

Psalm 8 responds to God’s activity in Creation with wonder and praise. The God whose mere fingers can create (as one of our Eucharistic prayers puts it) “galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile Earth” is also the God who can bother to pay attention to you and me.

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 13:11-13

The first reading constitutes a grand hello to and by God’s universe. The epistle reading is a goodbye, the end of the second letter to the congregation at Corinth. Paul reminds the contentious Corinthians to live in peace. The final verse is one of the earliest Trinitarian formulas—invoking Son, Father, and Spirit—in the Bible.

The Gospel            Matthew 28:16-20

The gospel takes place shortly after the Resurrection: in verse 10, Jesus had instructed the women at the tomb to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee. The eleven disciples do so, and Jesus gives them marching orders: make disciples of all nations—that is, everyone—in the name of the three Persons of the one God.

 

Ponderables

The readings for Easter season, all from the New Testament, reviewed Jesus’ incredible resurrection and the early days of the Church. In the season of Pentecost we return to taking the first reading from the Old Testament; the first reading for Trinity Sunday goes all the way back to the book that tells the beginning of everything. Whether the Genesis account is factual can be disputed, and is, though the order in which God calls all things into being turns out to accord remarkably well with the geological record and the theory of evolution. In any case, it is, all of it, the work of the one God, and all of it is good.

Psalm 8 continues the theme of the goodness of God’s work as it raptly recounts the wonders of creation, though verse 5—“What is man that you should be mindful of him?”—reflects not only awe at the vast grandeur of the universe but also resigned realism in the face of our persistent, insistent fallennesses and hardnesses of heart. 2 Corinthians similarly concedes our failings: before praying God’s grace, Paul begs the brothers and sisters (again!) to heal the divisions among them. And the gospels show as plain fact the inability even of those walking with Jesus to keep on keeping faith with him and with each other.

And yet Jesus, knowing how humans betrayed him and continue to betray him, bids us and continues to bid us in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit to partner with them in bringing to all people the great good news: fallen though each of us is and feels, none of us is useless to God, if we will only turn and listen and live.

What can I do today to show an estranged child of God how much he or she matters?

For May 26, 2013: Trinity Sunday, Year C

The Reading            Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

The book of Proverbs is part of what Biblical scholars refer to as “wisdom literature”; it dispenses sound advice for Old Testament living. Today’s reading, however, is about Wisdom, personified here as God’s partner in creation. We of the New Testament know Wisdom as the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.

The Response            Psalm 8

“O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world!”

The Epistle            Romans 5:1-5

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome has sometimes been called his most important theological work. Today’s short but rich reading may well be the core of it: we have peace with God and ourselves not through our own efforts but because the incredible love of God gives us hope.

The Gospel            John 16:12-15

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

 

Further thoughts

First, a disclaimer: for a theological explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, please consult a theologian. What I can offer here is my grammatical workaround of using plural pronouns and agreement forms for singular God, as in “God are Love, and where true love is, / God Themselves are there.”

I was inspired to this in youth by T.H. White’s witty and heartrending book The Once and Future King. Toward the end of the first part, just before the Sword in the Stone reveals young Wart as King Arthur, Merlyn the magician sends him out for his last lesson among the animals. A badger tells him a story of Creation in which all the animals looked exactly like embryos until God allowed them to choose adaptations such as claws or teeth or thick hides or wings. All made their choices—except for Man, last of all, whose response begins, “Please God, I think that you have made me in the shape I now have for reasons best known to Yourselves, and it would be rude to change…” This turns out to have been precisely the right answer. God replied,

“As for you, Man, you will be a naked tool all your life, though a user of tools. You will look like an embryo till they bury you, but all the others will be embryos before your might. Eternally undeveloped, you will always remain potential in Our image, able to see some of Our sorrows and to feel some of Our joys. We are partly sorry for you, Man, but partly hopeful.”

This is, please note, one God, yet plural. It is possible that White intended a sort of “royal We”, but it resonates with me differently. Though I still quite naturally try to reduce God to human scale, the slight strangeness of “God are…” in my mouth keeps me mindful of God as human and more than human, and the plural verbs and pronouns avoid assigning God exclusive maleness, instead encompassing maleness and femaleness (and probably much more in addition). God as singular plural also reminds me of the eternal fellowship enjoyed by God, as suggested by the Old Testament reading, a depth of mutual knowing and being known whose fullness is quite beyond the grasp of humankind here and now; it is the fellowship for which, through Christ, the apostle Paul says we have such hope; and just as surely the fellowship for whose stunning loss on earth Jesus in today’s gospel was gently but relentlessly preparing his disciples and friends to grieve.

For October 7, 2012: Proper 22, Year B

The Reading            Genesis 2:18-24

In last week’s Old Testament reading, Moses cried out for relief in dealing with the Israelites, and God sent a committee. Today’s reading takes us back to the beginning of all things: in God’s view, it is no better for the first human to be alone than it is for God. Interestingly it is the creation of woman that makes humans unique.

The Response            Psalm 8

The Epistle            Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

The letter to the Hebrews, which we read over the next few weeks, is less a letter than it is a tract that sets out demonstrate to first-century Jews how Jesus is the Messiah and fulfiller of the promises in the Old Testament. The quotation in today’s reading is from Psalm 8.

The Gospel            Mark 10:2-16

 

Further thoughts

Divorce—the ending of a marriage by a legal process—has become more and more common in today’s society. The scars that it leaves are properly to be lamented; most of us know and perhaps have sided with a spouse who has been left; some of us have been the spouse who was left or the spouse who left, and too many among us have been the children of a divorcing couple who could not keep their bitterness and anger to themselves. Jesus reminds us that neither marriage nor divorce is to be undertaken lightly, and, though the reminder can be painful, it is salutary.

It is both familiar and appropriate to take the Old Testament text and the gospel together as explaining and approving marriage as part of God’s design for human life. Perhaps, though, they and the epistle are also making a larger point. When the Old Testament tells us that woman was created from man, it tells us that God prizes our distinctivenesses: to hark back to the earlier account in Genesis, God has created each and every one of us in God’s image. It may also be telling us that each of us is created part of all the others. I am a part of you and you are a part of me, and you and I are each a part of people we will never meet, because through God every human being carries the imprint of all human beings. From this it follows that it should matter to me if you are hungry or cold or sad or fearful or in the dark, and it should matter enough to me to do what I can to feed you, warm you, cheer you, or bring you light. For me to turn my back on you amounts to a kind of divorce: you will learn from it, as children of bitter divorces do, that there are questions that are not to be asked and kinds of help you deserve that are not to be gained in your interaction through me, and this closed door may well hamper you in your other dealings.

To turn and seek and serve Christ in someone who has ignored or even scorned me can be painful. To turn and seek and serve Christ in someone I have ignored or scorned can be both painful and shame-inducing. Nevertheless, Jesus whom we all crucified calls me to do exactly that. In so doing I help build up the body of Christ, grace by grace and soul by soul.


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