The Collect for the 14th Sunday after Trinity
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer are found on pp. xlii-xliii.
Part 1: The First Lesson of Morning Prayer
The first lesson of Morning Prayer concludes our reading of 2 Samuel and introduces the first chapters of 1 Kings. Summarizing the valor of David’s reign, the author recounts the names and deeds of David’s mighty men as they drove back the Philistine armies that had tormented the Israelites for so many years. In a moment of personal nostalgia about his childhood in Bethlehem, David wishes he could taste the water from the well at Bethlehem one last time. Bethlehem was in Philistine territory.
Undaunted, David’s heroes hack and cut their way to the well and drew water for their King. But when he received it from them, he poured it out upon the ground saying, ‘Shall I drink the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?’ What might it mean to drink someone’s blood and benefit from it?
Finally, we read about God punishing David for taking a national census. The US has a national census. Does that mean that U.S. is sinning for taking a census? Well, not so fast. Setting the political aside for just a moment, consider what the text has to say. David wanted to count the people. Joab, the commander in chief, resisted praying that God would give David the great army he desired.
Ancient kings counted their people to know how large an army they had to fight their enemies. But Israel wasn’t supposed to be like the other nations. They were to be a light to the nations to draw them in to worship the true God. Moreover, David’s desire indicated that he did not trust God to be Israel’s protector and shield against the pagans. I Kings introduces us to wisest of all kings: Solomon. But Solomon was almost shoved aside by his older brother.
In a passage much like the earlier one relating Absalom’s rebellion, Adonijah calls the leaders of the nation to join him in proclaiming his kingship. But, from his deathbed, David declares that Solomon will be his heir. Solomon goes on to ask the Lord for divine wisdom above all other gifts, showing himself to be David’s true heir.
Part 2: The Second Lesson of Morning Prayer
The second lesson of Morning Prayer continues our reading of the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 6 thru 8. Because the Spirit of God had been poured out upon the apostles many thousands were hearing the Gospel, believing and being baptized. Yet in this great harvest of souls we see a foreshadowing of the conflict that will dominate the rest of the book: the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles in the Church.
The Hellenists were Gentile believers and they expected their widows to be supported in the same way that the Jewish believers widows were. This was, and still is, a necessary component of the Church’s life together. But this very good work was distracting the Apostles from the specific work that they had been given, to spread the news of Jesus’ resurrection thru the whole world. So they appointed seven men as deacons, which simply meant a ‘waiter or servant’.
These were good men, devoted to the care and feeding of the poor in the Church. But among them was a man named Stephen who defended the Church against all the accusations of the Jews. The Jewish leaders arrested him for speaking against the temple and against the law of Moses. When he was given the opportunity to speak, Stephen retold the story of Israel, focusing on how God had called Abraham to serve him with his family, and they had suffered as slaves in Egypt for 400 years, and that God had remembered them and had agreed to live among them in the tabernacle in the wilderness, which finally became the temple that Solomon built for the Lord.
But Stephen concludes his defense by saying that even though God had called them and had lived with them, yet they always rejected his call and killed his prophets, and finally Jesus the ‘Righteous one’, the covenant maker. When they heard this they dragged Stephen outside and killed him with stones. And a young man named Saul held their coats while they did it. But our author Luke wants us to realize that while Stephen’s life had been cut short, the good news about Jesus continued to spread thru the ministry of others. Philip left Jerusalem to escape the persecution and brought the message about Jesus to Samaria, and they believed.
Part 3: The First Lesson of Evening Prayer
The first lesson of Evening Prayer continues our reading of Job, chapters 21 thru 27. One thing I have noticed as I have read through Job for this series is how Job’s interlocutors speak words that I know that I have said before: God is just, he demands faithfulness from his creatures, and repentance from his children when they sin.
But Job tenaciously holds onto his claim that he has done nothing to deserve this punishment. When pressed, Job makes some serious charges against God. So in chapter 21 Job replies to Zophar: the wicked live comfortable, successful lives even though they reject God; there is little if any correlation between living and good life and avoiding pain and suffering. The opposite seems to be true: that it is the pious who suffer; the wicked live without a care in the world.
Furthermore, punishing the children of the wicked is unjust on God’s part. He should punish those who break his law, not their children. Eliphaz responds that it isn’t a question if a man’s virtue is profitable to God; virtue is profitable to the man who lives virtuously. Job responds that he is afraid to live any longer because the God that he believed was his friend now has become his enemy, even though Job doesn’t believe that he has left the paths of his commands. Job seeks for God; why won’t God come to him? Bildad reiterates that no natural born man is innocent, but we are guilty from birth. But Job maintains his innocence.
Part 4: The Second Lesson of Evening Prayer
The second lesson of Evening Prayer continues our reading of the Gospel according to Mark, from 5.21 to the end of chapter 6. Jesus had proclaimed that he was bringing the Kingdom of God in his ministry and then proceeded to region of the Gentiles.
Now, Jesus had returned to Israel and immediately the leader of the synagogue begged Jesus to heal his daughter. But this healing story stretches across the chapter with another nestled in the midst that has led some scholars to call this the ‘Markan sandwich’. In both cases, the sensitive reader should be thinking about Israel’s purity laws. The little girl will be dead when Jesus reaches her. The woman has suffered a lifetime of bloody discharge.
Each of these cases placed the victim outside the company of Israel. Death and disease could not be allowed within the community that represented to the nations the purity of life and worship. But who will raise the dead? Jesus goes about the country drawing all these broken and marginalized into his company. Jesus heals them, restores them, not just in body, but in soul.
Now Jesus’ own hometown refuses to believe him, but he calls the 12 Apostles to take the news of his Kingdom movement out into the whole country. The King of Israel, Herod, heard about Jesus’ movement and wonders aloud if this was a revivified John the Baptist whom Herod had just beheaded. Who was John? He was the forerunner. Of whom? The King of Israel, not Herod, but Jesus. But he was not just a king, but the prophet Moses had foretold in Deuteronomy. So Mark recounts the feeding of the 5,000 in the wilderness. Jesus is the new Moses.
But who is new Israel? Evidently those who follow him in the wilderness. But if those who follow Jesus are new Israel, then who is Pharaoh and his oppressing Egyptians?