TO THOSE persons seeking discussion for Sundays coming forth in the lectionary, we offer a listing according to the three-year calendar.
On the right-hand column of this page, please find the past corresponding year for lectionary years A, B, or C.
And then search the appropriate month in each for a discussion concerning the gospel reading.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fatback Stake House?

FOR THIS Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost we hear again from Saint Mark concerning a behavioral tradition challenged by Jesus. The topic of conversation concerned adherence to a human religious habit founded by some for pious justifications, over against the heartfelt doings of the will of God. Therefore we respectfully read...

And he (Jesus) called the people to him again, and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.”
 And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
 And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:14-23)

What May We Eat?
As Christians who have been taught to look at scripture for the dialectic tension maintained between the Law and the Gospel, we read that our lectionary menu seems to have items listed numerously beneath the Law column. These are many items that condemn us, and yet only one thing artfully hidden exists within the right reading of the Gospel. This causes great remorse, for we find ourselves dining on sour grapes.
 Note here that the disciples, and in particular those later found within Mark’s community... had incorporated many Gentiles around them. In doing so, they found themselves adapting their diet to include foods that were not ritually kosher in the Jewish cookery. Not only did many disciples eat with ritually unclean hands, they would eat such horrid non-kosher menu as delicious pork chops, lobster and squid. Such items were forbidden by the Jews, yet today they may cost a lot of money today in a favorite modern restaurant.
 Thankfully, according to Mark, Jesus cleared up dietary confusion. He said that to be defiled so that one was unacceptable before God, was not a matter of what a person ate… but rather that our spiritual condition depended on what we did or did not do in daily life. That news came across favorably to those in the early Church who were not Jews keeping kosher ritual. However, this news was short-sighted in relieving their concern, since they immediately were taught that we cannot eat or work our way to heaven.
 This is good news for such as a contestant of a TV series “Alone”, who recently had to whip up a meal of slugs and seaweed in order to physically survive. While it is astounding what the impoverished must find to eat from the dumpsters of our sinful world, we must ask, "Does that good and pure thing which we may find in the dumpster that we know of as this physical world, carry us safely across the threshold into the spiritual realm?"

What Should We Do?
The trouble for us becomes evident as our Lord addressed that which comes out of a man. Jesus basically said that no matter we eat, what spiritually comes out is like smelly defecation which makes us want to place our outhouse far from the homestead. Now for me, this egregious thought rolling around in my head struck hard on my nose, much like being downwind of the privy. Indeed, the mental picture was so pungent to them back then, that as the later Gospel of Matthew was written some twenty years later the scribe tried to lessen the impact. Matthew related that our Lord said…

 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:10-11)

Thus it was that even the early Church may have winced beneath the smell of human sin, so that they emphasized a dirty mouth. So too we blanch at Mark's menu of condemnations. You see, our overall behavior stinks like sour incense before God... so that no matter which end of the menu you bite down on... it's still worm food we are destined to be.
 Just examine the list! The menu of moral degradation we ingest condemns each and every one of us… whether we are Jew, Gentile, Roman, Greek, Russian, Oriental, African or American. Our Lord Jesus stated that these things come from the sinful, corrupted hearts of all humanity. By the time the list is completely read, we together possess a distinct urge to push back… away from the table. However, we find it is already too late! We are already condemned. What then can we do? Where shall we go? What may we offer? To whom shall we cry to pay the dinner check and save us?

Sweet Salvation
Take note here that the lesson then reveals to us the hidden one, a servant (in the Greek word “doulos” ),  Jesus stands very near to us. The steady and pure holy Servant, who is the Son of God… is the very One who has stood by us through his Spirit to teach us today. It is the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son that reveals the menu for our perusal. The Spirit tells us just like a patient waiter in your favorite Chinese restaurant, "Jesus waits for you to choose between those sweet and sour sinful items on the left, or the singular saving entity on the Right." If we choose as driven by the Holy Spirit to the right saving grace… we find ourselves sitting at a wondrous, eternal table, where blessed Saint Paul reminds…

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
                                                                           (1 Corinthians 11:23-28)

 Therefore, people of God… examine your hearts. For indeed hidden in, with and under the bread and wine that we consume in the holy meal of the Eucharist... is certainly the One who presents this gospel! That is the “Good News”, that he is the holy Servant who wrapped a towel around his waist and washed our feet, preparing us for this wondrous dinner. Jesus Christ, our Lord, Teacher and Savior, has given us the food which is his own body and blood. He thus provided forgiveness for us and informs of our renewed mission.
 Consequently, his menu empowers us for proclamations of grace to those around us, so that what comes out of our mouths is as sweet smelling incense burned before the altar of God. This is the gospel rightly proclaimed that saves, that which needs to be bountifully shared... and as such it should come as plentiful from the heart of the Church.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tasting Life...

OUR LECTIONARY for the Twelfth or Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us selectively depending on our ecclesial walk. Different denominations present us with a variance in readings possible. Here in this study we have already dealt for several weeks with the topical subject found in John; therefore, we choose to turn this study to the subject now covered in Mark. For those whose lectionary calls for working with the Johannine gospel, within that reading we historically find that during his teaching in the area around Capernaum concerning his being the “Bread of Life”, the populace strained for understanding that would come to them only by the Spirit.
 In both texts, however, we find that Jesus and his followers quickly became confronted by religious authorities in synagogue and temple. Here in Mark we read where some authorities rose to challenge our Lord in the name of keeping proper Jewish traditions. We read…

Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.)
 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?”
 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written..,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

 You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’; but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)… then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:1-13)
What is Pure?
The behavior of the disciples and others was pointed out by opponents. The disciples ate their meals without using customary ritual washing. Therefore the Pharisees, and other legalists who had come from Jerusalem gave rise to discussions about pure obedience to God. For them, obedience meant strict personal adherence to the dietary traditions that had set the Jewish people apart for centuries. Before eating, they would perform ritual washing that “purified” that which went into their bodies. These had been lifted very high in the few centuries before the time of Jesus birth. However, as pointed out by adherents, the practices to which they clung had roots in the Exodus from Egypt and the settlement of the people into the land. These were traditional ceremonial roots that they felt set them apart as God’s chosen people. However the problem of these traditions held up in the days of our Lord’s ministry, lay not in the original intent of preserving a robust and healthy nation walking before God, but that these had been boiled into an oppressive gruel of self-justification. By a menu of strict observances, a person could… and often would… claim righteousness before the throne of God and the company of men.
 In answering this challenge, therefore, Jesus ladled out a bitter taste. He accused that the religious authorities had overthrown the immutable Law of God. They had replaced divine instruction with many temporal rules. As proof, our Lord pointed out how divine mandate was intended to preserve proper care and respect for the elderly. The Law had long established…

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)

… and …

“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)

Using these unchanging mandates of God's Law, Jesus explained how the Law had been circumvented by traditions invented in the more recent days of Israel. You see, in the time of Jesus’ ministry and later, a Jewish head of household could take those funds which had been laid aside for his elder's care, preserving them for himself by vowing their use for the temple. A person could thus negate his responsibilities for parental care, while maintaining investment control of the finances. They would invest the funds, gaining interest from the principal.
232108: Jewish Ritual: A Brief Introduction for Christians Jewish Ritual: A Brief Introduction for Christians
By Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Rabbi Daniel Judson

What is Holy!
In the confrontation, therefore, we see that Jesus altered the conversation away from defending his disciples. He took rather to challenging Jewish tradition. Our Lord rightly focused the discussion on a sinful human flaw… that of our distorting or dismissing God's Law in order to gain religious, financial or political advantage. Thus his admonition to the Pharisees and scribes comes through the pen of Mark to his church. But we too must hear the truth about… “many such things you do.”
 You see, this was a message given universally to the Jews, the early church and to us as well. Mark wrote in a time when the officials of the synagogue looked down upon those Jews and Gentiles within the early church who did not keep to the “kosher” dietary laws of the chosen people. Therefore the admonitions of Jesus dismissed the distracting accusations of the synagogue legalisms. They were cast aside in order to focus the early church’s attention more properly on sinful disobedience as convicted by the Commandments. In this way, they saw that we all stand before the Law as convicted. Thus we are all driven to only seek salvation through Jesus Christ and not by what we may do. You see, thankfully we are saved only by grace through faith given in Jesus Christ alone, and not by either adherences to paltry man-made laws that we may keep, nor the Commandments which we fail to keep. We need to understand thoroughly that no one can get to heaven by legalisms, religious observances or the exercise of power or influence. We are justified only by our Lord’s death upon the cross. In this way we are made witness to the Father’s mercy through the power of the Holy Spirit.
 What then is the Law? Is it no more of use? On the contrary, the Law remains before us to be used as a guide for us in dealing and living with sin in the world. It stands as testimony that demonstrates our shortcomings and human need of salvation.
 Consider this! That which is "Corban", (laid aside) is indeed our secure salvation which is preserved for all eternity through Christ alone. For certainly Jesus willingly and exclusively paid dearly for our sinful ways and misunderstanding. He reconciled us to the Father! We are free from the penalty of the Law, though the Law yet stands. Thanks be to God that before dying upon the cross, our Lord clearly said… “Father.., forgive them. They know not what they do.”
 Thus it is now... as we gather at our Lord's table with unwashed, sinful hands… that we may rejoice and eat in peace, knowing forgiveness. From that holy place we may then rise in witness and work refreshed in this sinfully confused world. Thanks be to God.

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