COLLECT FOR THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
O GOD, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The lessons are found on pp. xxxviii- xxxix.
Part 1: The First Lesson of Morning Prayer.
In the First Lesson of Morning Prayer this week we continue our reading of the book 1 Samuel chapters 12-16. These chapters chronicle the transition in Israel from a tribal to a monarchical system of government. Samuel describes the Israelites’ demand for a king as another in a long line of idolatries that have brought the invasion of various pagan powers upon them. The drama of Saul’s reign is associated with the Philistines who settled the region south and west of the Israelites down by the Mediterranean. By the time of Saul, these people had lived in the land for more than 200 years. Nevertheless, they were the descendants of sea-faring marauders from southern Europe. Were they Greeks? If so, they would fit with the same mass immigration from Europe into the Mediterranean basin that included the war in the Levant that gave us the Trojan War. So among the Bronze Age heroes like Achilles we add Jonathan who led the Israelites to defeat the more numerous Philistines. Contrarily, Saul is represented as impetuous and inept, even to the point of jeopardizing the life of his own son and the success of the expedition. Saul fails the last test when he refused to destroy the Amalekites and their king. Samuel anoints David to succeed Saul. Samuel’s words to Saul should inspire us these thousands of years later, ‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.’
Part 2: The Second Lesson of Morning Prayer
In the Second Lesson of Morning Prayer we read Luke chapters 18 and 19. Jesus tells two parables in chapter 18. The setting for both is the courtroom, although that may not be immediately evident in the second parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. But these two, along with the widow in the first parable, all stand before the divine tribunal demanding to be vindicated, or judged to be in the right. The Jews had long hoped that God would keep his promises to them and relieve them from the oppression they suffered at the hands of their pagan overlords. But when God acted on behalf of Israel, who would be saved? The tax collector went away justified because he threw himself wholly upon the mercy of the judge. This attitude must be the fundamental characteristic of our faith. So the chapter ends, rightly, with the blind man crying out to Jesus, and his receiving Jesus’ merciful healing according to his faith. Chapter 19 falls into three sections: Zacchaeus, the parable of the talents, and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Each of these confirms the theme, ‘When divine justice comes, who will find themselves in the Kingdom?’ Zacchaeus, the short rich man, is astonished to find himself wrapped up into the messianic welcome that Jesus was extending to all, even the outcast.
Part 3: The First Lesson of Evening Prayer
In the First Lesson of Evening Prayer we continue our reading in Nehemiah. A famine has struck the people and the newly returned exiles are starving. Some have resorted to mortgaging their homes and farms to pay for food to keep from starving. This should remind us of how the people of Egypt had sold Joseph all their lands and possessions to avoid starvation. It was in this way that Egypt became the great power of the day. But the elders of Israel decide to outlaw the collection of interest on debts. All ancient civilizations had a very dim view of charging interest. It is only in the modern era that it has become not only accepted, but the bedrock of modern economic practice. But debt is rarely repaid. Instead, it continues to accumulate until it crushes individuals, families and even whole cultures. Once the city wall was complete, Ezra and the elders of the city, read Moses’ Law to the people, interpreting and exhorting the people to be faithful to the Lord. Reading the Law to the people brings them to the realization that they have not kept the festivals prescribed by God, and their hearts have fallen away from the Lord. This causes Ezra to lead them in a nationwide confession of sin. In what ways have our individual sins become national sins? Do you think that God is interested in nations, or only in individuals?
Part 4: The Second Lesson of Evening Prayer
In the Second Lesson in Evening Prayer we continue our reading of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. As we conclude chapter 11 Paul makes the controversial claim that ‘all Israel will be saved’. If we have been following Paul’s argument from the beginning, we should realize that this Israel being saved is the whole body of believers, Jew and Gentile alike, who have found themselves vindicated in the resurrected Messiah. This new Israel, this new humanity, now has a mandate to the rest of the world. They are to offer right worship. They are to live humbly with their neighbors, acknowledging that God has poured out his gifts upon all the members of the Church. They must show genuine love, and must forgive their enemies. This new community, God’s kingdom on earth, is truly free, and yet they cannot withdraw from human society, nor may they reject human authority. They must be obedient to emperors, kings and governors because they exercise divine authority. Chapter 14 sees Paul reflecting on this new society of the Messiah’s. There are Jews and Gentiles, working thru the challenges of this new way of being. Some want to keep the old holidays, fasts and dietary requirements. Others do not feel bound by those old ways of being. But Paul reminds them that their new found freedom can never result in judging and excluding their Christian brothers and sisters. What might the Church look like today if we took seriously Paul’s injunctions?