The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17 - 29 August 2010

Contemporary Reading: Bullfinch, Daedalus and Icarus
Sirach 10:12-18
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Saint Luke 14:1, 7-14

The flight of Daedalus and Icarus

Although listed in the original recensions of the lectionaries of the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches when they adapted the Roman Missal for use in Episcopal and Lutheran Churches (1970s), readings from the Apocrypha are much more pronounced in the Revised Common Lectionary (which represents a further revision of the lectionary, in concert with other churches).  Although these two traditions did not include these books in the canon (collection) of the Bible, they were noted as “The other Books (i.e., the Apocrypha) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” (Articles of Religion V, BCP).  A similar stance was taken by the Lutherans.  Other Protestants, however, rejected them outright.  The first reading for this Sunday is taken from Sirach, also known as “The Wisdom of Ben Sira”.  Originally written in Hebrew, it was only known to scholars in a Greek version, translated from the Hebrew into the Greek just as the Hebrew Scriptures were translated from Hebrew into Greek in the Second Century BCE.  Jews, however, did not add this book to their canon, and it was only until the 20th Century that actual copies of the Hebrew originals were found in Cairo, Egypt, and along with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The contents of the book are in a great deal similar to the contents of Proverbs, and have a similar theological disposition to that in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and which we recently witnessed in last Sunday's first reading from Isaiah.  All of these have a somewhat nostalgic view of ancient Judaism and its respect for the faith and morality of that time to which they contrast an “eat, drink, and be merry” attitude that they deem inconsistent with the older ways.   

Another Note:

Beginning with this blog entry, I will be publishing the "contemporary reading" that we use at Trinity Church.  These readings will have some introductory materials or commentary as well, and will be listed at the end of the blog.  Your comments would be appreciated. 

Sirach 10:12-18

The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
and destroys them completely.
The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
and enthrones the lowly in their place.
The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
and plants the humble in their place.
The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,
and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
He removes some of them and destroys them,
and erases the memory of them from the earth.
Pride was not created for human beings,
or violent anger for those born of women.

Holy Wisdom

In today’s reading it does not take us long to understand the theme of the reading – namely, Pride.  The reading has a cadence, and vocabulary that is similar to readings from Proverbs.   Indeed, verses 14 and 15 seem to be precursors of the Magnificat (the Song of Mary in Luke) (casting down the mighty from their thrones,
 and lifting up the lowly.).  Pride is one of the primal sins that is discussed in the early chapters of Genesis.  The story of the Tower of Babel, an etiology (a story that explains a place or a name) that seemingly tells us why there are many languages.  The real lesson, however, is the same one that Ben Sira wants to tell – and that is the story of pride, what it does to human kind, and how God reacts to such behaviors. The Gospel will take this theme and apply it to daily life.

Breaking open Sirach:

1.     Is the notion of pride a positive thing for you – or a negative thing?
2.     In what ways can it be negative?
3.     In what ways can it be positive?
4.     What is your “common-sense” understanding of pride?

Psalm 112 Beatus vir

Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!

Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.

Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.

Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.

For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

They will not be afraid of any evil rumors; *
their heart is right;
they put their trust in the Lord.

Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.

They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honor.

The wicked will see it and be angry;
they will gnash their teeth and pine away; *
the desires of the wicked will perish.

This psalm is an acrostic with each verset (two versets to a verse) representing a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  It is also a Wisdom psalm, which fits nicely with the first reading.  The preceding psalm (111) is also an acrostic and a Wisdom psalm, which lists all of God’s beneficence, while psalm 112 lists the attributes which are displayed by a righteous and virtuous person.  The beginning of the psalm (“Happy are they” – literally, “Happy is the man…”) could also be stated as “Blessed is the man (or woman)”, as is done in the Beatitudes.  After these attributes are rehearsed (wealth, graciousness, stability, guileless, staunch, generous) the author sets up a foil to the “Happy man.”  In the last verse we learn that the “wicked will see it and be angry.”  This saying is updated in Romans (12:20) when Paul talks about another’s reaction to the believer’s good deeds – “In this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Breaking open Psalm 112
1.       How is blessedness happiness?
2.       Is wealth a sign of being blessed or is it the sign of just being luck or cagey?
3.       How important is it to you that people see you as a virtuous person?

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence,

"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?"

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Aquila and Priscilla

I have to thank Jayne, a parishioner who attends the 9:00 Mass on Sundays, for reminding me of Adolf von Harnack’s theory that the Letter to the Hebrews was written by St. Paul’s companion and Roman aristocrat, Priscilla.  Readers interested in this theory can go to this site to see some of the arguments:  The main brunt of the argument is that Priscilla was married to Aquila, a Hebrew Christian, and that they ministered to former Essenes (a Jewish sect that was responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls).  Some scholars have noted the resemblance of Hebrews to some aspects of Essene thought.  Current thought is that Priscilla’s name (as author) was suppressed by the Early Church. 

The reading is a riff on the law of hospitality, and applies it to ever-new aspects of life in Christ.  The stranger is met with a gracious hospitality as well as the prisoner.  This passage may indicate that the author was aware of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome – accompanying him there to lend her aristocratic support.  The remainder is a recasting of the Law for everyday life, as in Pauline fashion she lists the aspects of a life of virtue.  In the midst of the passage she quotes Psalm 118:6 “The Lord is for me; I shall not fear; what can humankind do to me?”  If this indeed is the work of Priscilla, and indeed she wrote this cognizant of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, then the verse, “Remember your leaders…” has an even more poignant effect.

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. How is hospitality a joy, and how is it an obligation?
  2. After you read the Gospel, think about how Jesus rethinks the whole notion of hospitality?
  3. What would you need to do to meet Jesus and Hebrew’s expectation of hospitality?

Saint Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

In this chapter, Luke takes several sayings and situations and binds them into a whole – namely a banquet, which provides not only a setting for the sayings but the life example as well.  He sets the scene with the first verse, “On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader…”  Then follows a series of sayings, each with a different import.  The first (verses 7-11) are unique to Luke, and in it Jesus uses the common knowledge of social manners to teach a lesson about the Kingdom of Heaven – the humble will be exalted and visa versa.  The second saying (written as if at the same banquet) is also unique to Luke.  Here Jesus comments on the radical nature of the “kingdom” which he envisions.  In this society, social graces move out of the real of social obligation or ingratiation into the area of helping those who are in genuine need – regardless of social class.  The invitation is universal and divisive and runs against the social and religious norms of the time.  Indeed, it still does.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Which of these two sayings (go up higher, or when you invite) do you find to be more challenging?
  2. What does humility mean to you?  How does it feel?
  3. What is your social life like?  Whom do you invite to dinner?  How do you deal with those who are truly hungry?

Contemporary Reading: Daedalus and Icarus, Thomas Bullfinch

The labyrinth from which Theseus escaped by means of the clew of Ariadne was built by Daedalus, a most skillful artificer. It was an edifice with numberless winding passages and turnings opening into one another, and seeming to have neither beginning nor end, like the river Maeander, which returns on itself, and flows now onward, now
 backward, in its course to the sea. Daedalus built the labyrinth for King Minos, but afterwards lost the favour of the king, and was shut up in a tower. He contrived to make his escape from his prison, but could not leave the island by sea, as the king kept strict watch on all the vessels, and permitted none to sail without being carefully searched.

"Minos may control the land and sea," said Daedalus, "but not the regions of the air. I will try that way." So he set to work to fabricate wings for himself and his young son Icarus. He wrought feathers together, beginning with the smallest and adding larger, so as to form an increasing surface. The larger ones he secured with thread and the smaller with wax, and gave the whole a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird.

Icarus, the boy, stood and looked on, sometimes running to gather up the feathers which the wind had blown away, and then handling the wax and working it over with his fingers, by his play impeding his father in his labours. When at last the work was done, the artist, waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward, and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner and taught him how to fly, as a bird tempts her young ones from the lofty nest into the air. When all was prepared for flight he said, "Icarus, my son, I charge you to keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low the damp will clog your wings, and if too high the heat will melt them. Keep near me and you will be safe."

While he gave him these instructions and fitted the wings to his shoulders, the face of the father was wet with tears, and his hands trembled. He kissed the boy, not knowing that it was for the last time. Then rising on his wings, he flew off, encouraging him to follow, and looked back from his own flight to see how his son managed his wings. As they flew the ploughman stopped his work to gaze, and the shepherd leaned on his staff and watched them, astonished at the sight, and thinking they were gods who could thus cleave the air. They passed Samos and Delos on the left and Lebynthos on the right, when the boy, exulting in his career, began to leave the guidance of his companion and soar upward as if to reach heaven. The nearness of the blazing sun softened the wax which held the feathers together, and they came off. He fluttered with his arms, but no feathers remained to hold the air.

While his mouth uttered cries to his father it was submerged in the blue waters of the sea which thenceforth was called by his name. His father cried, "Icarus, Icarus, where are you?" At last he saw the feathers floating on the water, and bitterly lamenting his own arts, he buried the body and called the land Icaria in memory of his child. 

In 1855, Thomas Bullfinch, the son of a Boston architect (The Massachusetts Statehouse, and parts of the Capitol in Washington D.C.) published his Bulfinch’s Mythology.  In this and a series of other books, Bullfinch attempted to acquaint the reader of English with the great myths and tales of Greece and Rome.  He saw them as an “entertainment” and a “source of amusement” and noted how he had taken out all the unsavory parts.  Later works by other authors relied on Greek texts, but this effort was one of acquainting Americans with classic texts, and making those texts a part of their education.

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.


Popular posts from this blog

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, 6 June 2021

The Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, 23 May 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent, 6 December 2020