Posts Tagged 'sacrifice'

For July 28, 2013: Proper 12, Year C

The Reading            Hosea 1:2-10

The prophet Amos over the last two weeks condemned Israel in terrifying terms for defrauding the poor. The book of Hosea is even more shocking and graphic: at God’s command, Hosea tells us, he marries a woman who will cheat on him flagrantly, to symbolize Israel’s faithlessness—and, eventually God’s capacity for forgiveness.

The Response            Psalm 85

“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

The Epistle            Colossians 2:6-19

The church at Galatia, with its mix of Gentiles and converted Jews, seems to have experienced a good deal of friction about how to eat and drink and celebrate rightly as a Christian. Paul reminds the Galatians and us that what matters is that we are made right with God through the sacrifice of Jesus: the rest is human thinking.

The Gospel            Luke 11:1-13

“‘How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’”



Further thoughts

The story of Hosea and his bride is difficult to read. The command by God Almighty to find a whore, or at least a woman who will certainly both sleep around on Hosea and make sure he knows all about it, and marry her surely contravenes both Talmudic law and the considerable weight of what custom has to say about the purity of the woman one marries. The language is incredibly alienating: the wife is depicted as not merely unfaithful but repugnant, and the children are given abusive names that signify brutality (Jezreel was the site of Naboth’s house that King Ahaz coveted and it was where Ahaz and Jezebel were killed), callousness, and unwantedness. It has been suggested that verse 10, which reverses the second and third children’s names, was added by a later hand; this verse takes some of the sting out of what precedes, but we’re still left with a blameless man holding his nose while condescending to marry someone that no sane man should want.

The epistle and gospel make a much bigger shift. The reading from Colossians depicts the sacrifice of Jesus as the product not of God’s contempt but of God’s love; the benefits of whatever Jesus underwent in this world are extended to us if we simply believe in his Name—including a key ritual, circumcision, for which the female body has no good analogue—and everything else is just window dressing prescribed by humans. In the reading from Luke, Jesus’ disciples probably expect an arcane and stately ritual when they ask to be taught to pray; they want something that marks them off from others as insiders. Instead, Jesus gives a format that a two-year-old could master in which God Almighty is “Daddy” and the “we” includes the whole of God’s beloved world.

For Nov. 11, 2012: Proper 27, Year B

The Reading            1 Kings 17:8-16

The first and second books of Kings catalogue the rulers of Israel and Judah after David by their wickednesses and tell stories of the prophets who called them to account. After the prophet Elijah announces a punishing drought to King Ahab and his pagan queen Jezebel of Sidon, the Lord sends Elijah away for his own safety. In far-off Sidon Elijah meets a widow with whose cooperation he brings about one of God’s miracles of feeding.

The Response            Psalm 127

The Epistle            Hebrews 9:24-28

The book of Hebrews demonstrates how and why Jesus is the Messiah. The verses before today’s reading describe the Day of Atonement, the one day each year on which the high priest alone would bring animals’ blood for forgiveness to the holiest place in the temple. In contrast, Jesus who lives brings his own shed blood to heaven itself so we humans can enter the presence of God.

The Gospel            Mark 12:38-44


Further thoughts

That the reading from the book of Isaiah is one of the lectionary selections in the month of November is no surprise: this is stewardship season, after all, in which we are called to give of the abundance that we have been given. This is a problematic call, however, when we humans sense our abundance threatened or ebbing.

The ladies of the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel had been wives, each of them, with households to manage and husbands to look after. Then the worst possible societal disaster struck: each was widowed, bereft not only of husband but of financial support given the lack of reputable jobs for women outside the home.

The widow of Zarephath is down to her last meal, literally—or, worse, her son’s—when along comes Elijah, the foreign man of Israel’s God, to demand the little she has left. She protests. Then Elijah announces that God will not let her flour and oil run out until the rains come, if she gives what she has to Elijah first. She elects to trust Elijah and the God who sent him, and it is as Elijah promised: he and she and her household all have enough. Elijah’s prophecy gives her the hope with which to trust.

As for the widow at the Temple, we know that the law of Moses specified offerings for various purposes. Though one could bring actual turtledoves or grain or wood or oxen, it was easier for all concerned to bring the price of the sacrificial item for the Temple to buy and sacrifice in quantity, and so the Temple treasury featured both thirteen or fourteen different trumpet-shaped chests to collect the money and the means to make sure that each worshiper paid the right amount. Then as now, two little copper coins will not buy much—but two little copper coins are all that this widow has, and in front of everybody that is what she deposits. Is she one of the widows devoured by the scribes? Does she put in everything she has out of love of God, or because she will be barred from worship at the Temple otherwise, or perhaps because, like the other widow before Elijah’s prophecy, she has lost all hope? Is she a good steward in giving up this money, if it means that her child starves?

Is it in fact always good stewardship to give up one’s life except when the need is extraordinary?

As the reading from Hebrews tells us, Jesus gave his life to save the world God made—but he gave so great a gift of his own free will and only once. And he yielded neither his Godhead nor his soul.

For Oct. 25, 2012: Proper 25, Year B

The Reading            Job 42:1-6, 10-17

When Job the righteous lost everything, his friends imputed this to his sin. In today’s reading Job, having angrily challenged God and heard God’s reply, acknowledges God’s sovereignty and recants his challenge. The reading omits the verses in which God scolds Job’s friends for misrepresenting God and bids them ask Job to pray for them. This is a God who can bear human anger—and a man who can live again and love after disaster.


The Response            Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22


The Epistle            Hebrews 7:23-28

The letter to the Hebrews continues to explain how and why Jesus is the ultimate high priest: resurrected, Jesus continues to intercede for us, and sinless Jesus was able to sacrifice himself once for all the sins of all of us. “The word of the oath” refers to the quotation from Psalm 110:4 in last week’s epistle reading:

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”


The Gospel            Mark 10:46-52


Further thoughts

The scriptures for Proper 25 bear in large measure on seeing straight and speaking straight.

Job’s outburst at God earns Job an outburst in return—but Job is also called “my servant”, because he sees and responds to things in God that his well-meaning friends have missed. First, Job surmises that God is too big, too God, to be in the business of doling out gold coins only to the good kids and lumps of coal only to the bad kids, as humans tend to do; second, Job keeps talking to God even when it seems that God’s back is turned on Job; third, God Most High is also God Right Here, listening to Job’s grief and even his anger.

As for the blind beggar in the gospel, we know little of his past, except that people see him as someone who should be seen only at ground level and heard not at all, a nobody—calling him “Bartimaeus” is like saying that my name is “Ed’s kid”. But sightless Bartimaeus has insight that those around him miss: not only is this Jesus the Son of David, the Promised One of God, he is very much in the business of mercy for the marginalized—and so Bartimaeus tells it and yells it.

Job and Bartimaeus see and speak, but they also act and risk. Job prays for his unenlightened friends. That his fortunes are restored sounds a bit pat in the reading, but no child comes without begetting, which is an act of love and a bet on life itself—and Job and his wife raise fully ten more children, each so loved that the daughters receive inheritances alongside their brothers. Blind Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak, which is all his warmth and all his security: letting it fall where he can’t count on recovering it by touch is betting quite literally everything on Jesus’ mercy. Then, having received his sight—and, one senses, much more—he goes out into the world to follow Jesus.

The psalm praises, and the epistle to the Hebrews spells out, what it is that Job and Bartimaeus glimpse: a priest unlike any other that either Job or Bartimaeus would have known, an unprecedented sacrifice, and above and through these a God Most High who is also by God’s own preference nearer than my own heartbeat. This is Jesus who calls me to share the banquet of God’s love and reminds me urgently that the party has already started: the people to share it with are here and the time to share it is now.

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.

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