The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24 - 17 October 2010
II Timothy 3:14-4:5
Saint Luke 18:1-8
Commentaries, they are a temptation and an addiction for me. I find that they always open up something new. Since this Sunday we have a reading from the Torah, I decided to open up Etz Hayim, (Tree of Life) a conservative Jewish commentary on the Torah. It contains three separate levels of commentary: the p’shat – which discusses the literal meaning the text, the drash – representing Chassidic, Talmudic, Mediaeval, and modern commentaries on the text, and finally, the halach l’maaseh (and this is the most interesting) which relates the text to modern Jewish practice and Jewish Law. It takes a moderate position on the historicity of some texts, which has earned it no praise in Orthodox publications. It is a healthy and invigorating look for someone who has relied on Christian commentaries most of his life.
First Reading: Genesis 32:22-31
The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
|Gaugin - "Jacob wrestles with the angel"|
There are so many psychological symbols in this popular story about Jacob, and the Etz Hayim does an excellent job of decoding them. The crossing of the river, the sun rising upon Jacob at Penuel, the new name, Israel, all of these point to a signature transformation in Jacobs’s life. Up to this point his life has been one of contention and struggle with his brother Esau, and with his father-in-law Laban. In this story he confronts Elohim, a word that is variously translated as god, angel, or divine being. The modern commentary in Etz Hayim, points to other persona with whom Jacob might have wrestled: Esau’s guardian angel, the demonic guardian of the river, or perhaps even his own conscience. Any of these readings, including the Christian interpretation, which sees Jacob as wrestling with God, leads us to the theme in today’s lessons of perseverance. Indeed, when the divine being announces the name change (Jacob – Israel) he, she, it says, “for you have striven (“Israel” means you have struggled with God) with divine beings, and human, and have prevailed. If this doesn’t strike at the contemporary human dilemma and provoke a deep discussion, I don’t know what does.
Breaking open Genesis:
1. With what or with whom do you strive in your life?
2. If you struggle with God, what are the issues?
3. If you struggle with human-kind, how can God support you in your strife?
Psalm 121 Levavi oculos
I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the LORD, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
The LORD himself watches over you; *
the LORD is your shade at your right hand,
So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.
The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.
The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.
This is one of the so-called “Songs of Ascent”, ostensibly songs sung by pilgrims as they made their way from the lowlands, up to the hills of Jerusalem, hence the reference to the hills as the locus of protection. This may or may not be, but at the very least this is a psalm which makes very specific claims about the protection afforded by God to God’s people. The verb “to guard” (translated as “to keep watch” in the BCP translation) is mentioned six times in the eight verses of the psalm. There are also comments about “shade” in the psalm – all of which would be perfectly obvious to anyone approaching Jerusalem from the east. There is no shade there and a quite real danger of sunstroke. Also interesting is the comment on the moon, and the fear of being “moonstruck” (made mad). Especially moving is the comment on the God who guards your “coming in and going out”. This used to be a part of the old Lutheran baptismal liturgy, said in the form of a blessing at the conclusion of the rite, a nice association for those who walk with God by virtue of their baptisms.
Breaking open Psalm 121:
1. From what does God need to guard you?
2. From what do you need to guard yourself?
3. What does the notion of a guardian who neither “slumbers nor sleeps” mean to you?
II Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
We continue our on-going reading from IInd Timothy. In these passages we get a glimpse of what instruction was like amongst early Christians. Timothy’s primary mentors were his mother and his grandmother. As pious Jews, they were bound to teach their child the “sacred writings”. Such writings at this time would have been the Hebrew Scriptures, since the Christian scriptures had not yet been formed. This is why Timothy’s office is so important to Paul, for Paul sees him as a conduit of the teaching that he, Paul, is impressing upon his congregations. Paul is nervous about the emerging situation in Christianity, where the teaching is still being formed, and thus he warns Timothy about believers with “itchy ears” wandering into “myths.” Current scholarship has borne out Paul’s concern, as we continue to uncover suppressed or forgotten books of Christian teaching. Paul wants his protégé to hold onto “sound doctrine” as Paul has both understood it and taught it, and having acquired it, wants Timothy to announce it and teach it.
Breaking open II Timothy:
- Do you have a Bible? What translation is it? Do you read it?
- What is your favorite book of the Bible? Why?
- Who taught you to be a Christian? Whom have you taught?
Saint Luke 18:1-8
Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Luke was an astute observer of Paul’s mission, and in this morning’s Gospel reading we have one of two parables unique to Luke, which address the questions, “When will the kingdom come? How will we perceive it?” The result is a delightful parable, full of Pauline phrases “pray always”, “do not lose heart.” The story is familiar in other forms, but in this version, a dissolute judge realizes that he must impart justice, because a widow keeps insisting that she get it. Here, in typical Lucan fashion, the disenfranchised (the widow) struggles with (compare the First Reading) the powerful judge. Like the importunate neighbor (Luke 11:5-8) she simply will not go away, until her wishes have been granted. Jesus then comments on the persistence of prayer.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Think of an instance where you really insisted on something? What was it that you demanded?
- Have you demanded things from God, and if so how do you do that?
- What have you demanded of your faith?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.