One came back

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Watching for the Morning of October 9, 2016

Year C

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

Healing comes to the fore this Sunday, but much more than healing. Namaan, the Syrian general, enemy of Israel, yet sufferer, is told by a slave girl, captured from Israel, that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him. The story is filled with humor and irony and the radical ways of God who is not impressed with the trappings of wealth and power but simple obedience. A God of grace beyond Israel’s borders, though Namaan himself is still bound by the idea that Israel’s God is like all the others: powerful only on his own specific bits of land.

And the psalmist sings of the mighty works of God – though he, too, doesn’t yet seem to fully understand that God’s mighty works are not just for his people, but for all.

The author of 2 Timothy knows that “the word of God is not chained”, yet his focus is on “the elect” not on the vast sweep of humanity – indeed of the created world, itself.

And so we come to Jesus. Ten sufferers stand far off, crying out from a distance because they are unclean and unworthy to come near to anyone but their fellow sufferers. They cry for mercy and Jesus sends them to the priests who are the ones appointed by God to judge whether anyone is “clean” and may go home. They scamper off, but one returns. One is captured by the grace he has received. One is driven to his knees in gratefulness and praise. And he is a Samaritan, a foreigner, one to whom God is thought to have no obligation or concern.

But Jesus knows this God of the creation and the exodus and the water turned to wine is the God of all: the sinners and the saints, the outcast and the inner circle, the broken and the whole, the lost and the found.

The nine scamper off to resume their lives – and who can blame them? But the one who turned back, the one with his face to the ground, the one with tears in his eyes and a heart bursting, knows that something much more than a village healer has come.

The Prayer for October 9, 2016

God our healer and redeemer,
stretch forth your hand,
touch us with your spirit
that, cleansed and made whole,
we may live lives of gratefulness and praise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 9, 2016

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-19a (appointed, 5:1-3, 7-15)
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram… suffered from leprosy.”
– The commander of Israel’s hostile neighbor is told by a captured Israelite maid that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” – An acrostic hymn singing the praise of God from Aleph to Tau (A to Z).

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” – Written by Paul (or, as some scholars think, in Paul’s name) from prison to his protégé Timothy, the author speaks to the next generation of leadership urging faithfulness to the teaching they have received.

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?’” –As Jesus approaches a village he is met by ten people suffering from a dreaded skin affliction that excludes them from their families and community. They are sent on their way healed, but only the Samaritan in the group returns to acknowledge Jesus and give thanks to God.

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Honor or obedience?

Wednesday

Matthew 21

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The Parable of the Two Sons, By Andrey Mironov 777

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Our Gospel reading this Sunday has us now in Jerusalem. The narrative we associate with Palm Sunday of Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem upon a donkey and “cleansing” the temple has just occurred and now, the next morning, Jesus returns to the temple where he is confronted by the temple authorities: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

It sounds to us like a question, but it’s not. They know full well that no officer in the nation has authorized this action. It’s a little like your parent asking, after some blatant infraction, “Just who do you think you are?!” There is no answer to the question and, normally, the person is condemned to silence and shame.

But Jesus has an authorization – he has a prophetic commission from God. Still, it is not a claim he can make on his own. To do so would be the height of hubris. Such an acclamation that he is an agent of God can only come from the community. So Jesus, instead of hanging his head, answers shrewdly: “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.”

So Jesus asks about John’s authority – and now the Jerusalem leaders must hang their heads in silence. They cannot say that John was a prophet without risking the question why they did not listen to him, nor can that say he was not a prophet without risking the wrath of the crowd. So they say nothing – and Jesus’ refusal to answer becomes not his shame but his victory.

The chief priests and elders, the elite rulers of the city and nation, now become the victim of a question from Jesus about two sons: one refused his father’s request but later changed his mind, the other said he would do as the father asked but didn’t. At this point, before Jesus poses his question, everyone in the crowd is siding with the second son. The first boy is shameful to defy his father in public; the second son is the good son.

In a society in which public honor is the highest value, a good son would never publicly refuse his father (and this is a society where everything is public).   Everyone knows that the good son is the one who says, “I will go” even if he has no intention of going. The good son upholds his father’s honor.

But Jesus doesn’t ask who was the good son. He doesn’t ask which son fulfilled the commandment to honor his father. He asks which did the father’s will! Jesus isn’t much interested in the rituals of honor; he declares that God is looking for justice and mercy. The Jerusalem elite give God great public honor – it is a magnificent temple and their rituals and sacrifices are grand – but it is the “sinners and tax collectors” who have heard the message of God’s kingdom and shown allegiance to the way of God. They are the ones who have shared their bread and forgiven one another and treated all as members of God’s house. They are the ones “entering the kingdom,” receiving and sharing the gifts of God, and taking their place at the banquet of God.

It is a teaching that takes us back to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Or again: Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

It’s the difference between a house built on sand and one built on rock.

In the rubble of Palm Sunday

Watching for the morning of September 28

Year A

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 21 / Lectionary 26

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Cecco del Caravaggio, Christ Expelling the Money Changers from the Temple

We have come to Jerusalem. Although we won’t hear again the narratives we read in Holy Week and Easter, these texts and parables that take us to the last Sunday of the church year (November 23 in 2014) are set by Matthew in that final week in Jerusalem and reflect the intense conflict between Jesus and the leaders of the people. They are stories in which, like last week, the guardians of the temple and city (the wealthy protectors of the status quo) have murder in their eyes.

In the Gospel reading this Sunday the leaders will attack Jesus for his public demonstration in the temple, when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove the animals and their sellers from the temple and declared that this ancient sacred site had become a hideout for thieves. But Jesus will get the better of them and press home the stunning and surprising question that asks not who honors their father in heaven, but who is doing his will.

This question is set for us against the backdrop of the prophet Ezekiel, who will not let his community blame their misfortunes on the sins of their parents generation, but makes each person accountable before God for his own deeds.

The psalmist gives a humble appeal for God to look mercifully upon him and Paul writes to the congregation in Philippi urging them to a life together that is shaped by the mind of Christ who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and was obedient unto death.

Obedience, faithfulness, repentance, the proper way to honor God, sinners and chief priests, the penitent and the righteous are all the topic of this week. And we come to be reminded both of the mercy of God who ever invites us to his table, and the earnestness of God who looks for far more from us than outward gestures of respect.

The Prayer for September 28, 2014

Gracious Heavenly Father,
you look for the fruits of righteousness in our lives,
the justice and mercy called forth by your word.
Create in us willing and obedient hearts
that know and do you will;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 28, 2014

First Reading: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” – In 597 BCE, ten years before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, it had surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar who carried off members of the leading families to Babylon as hostages against further rebellion (including Ezekiel). To a people who blamed their misfortunes on the sins of the preceding generations, the prophet declares that each is accountable to God for their own actions and the one who turns back to God will find life.

Psalmody: Psalm 25:1-9
“Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.” – Psalm 25 is also an acrostic poem, each line beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet. Here the poet humbly asks God’s mercy.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-13
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” – In prison in Rome, Paul writes to his beloved congregation in Philippi to encourage them to remain faithful to their Lord, here urging the community to have “the same mind” as Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32
“The chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’” – The morning after Jesus attacked the moneychangers and sellers in the temple, the chief priests come and attack him about his authority to do such things. Jesus deftly turns their attack back on them and, with a story about two sons, asks who is doing the will of the Father.