Reading Ramblings – July 14, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 14, 2019

Texts: Leviticus (18:1-5)19:9-18; Psalm 41; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Context: How we treat one another matters. It is not simply a matter of getting along, of utilitarian best practices. Rather, it is a reflection of our relationship with our Creator, and an acknowledgment of his wisdom and holiness. We are not free to innovate. The readings reflect both the divine imperative in this matter as well as pictures of how this plays out and makes a real difference in our individual and corporate lives.

Leviticus 18:1-5, 19:9-18 – The first five verses of Chapter 18 set the context for the lengthy discourse on divinely instituted morality and ethics. This context is necessary to properly receive all that follows, including the verses assigned in Chapter 19. In these verses, as elsewhere, each directive is ended with the reminder I am the Lord. More accurately, I am YHWH, and God identifies himself by the name He gave to Moses in Exodus 3. The God who directs the Israelites in their personal and public life is the God who brought them out of slavery and saved them from the genocidal policies of the Egyptians. He is the same God who currently sustains them in the wilderness and has promised to bring them to their own land. He is the God they have pledged covenant faithfulness to, and receive their protection from. As such, these directives are not to be questioned or ignored but followed faithfully with the understanding that to do so is to walk in the way of a good life (18:5). These particular directives remind us that what we have is not exclusively ours, but is ours in a larger communal context. God does not socialize property, but makes it clear that what is given personally is not exclusively for personal use. Likewise, both our private feelings (19:17) as well as our public actions are guided by an overarching love for our neighbor as a fellow creature, a child of God. It might reasonably be argued that these edicts apply first and foremost to those who share faith in our God, it would also seem highly unreasonable to insist that they only apply to our brothers and sisters in faith.

Psalm 41 – This is a very personal and touching psalm, yet broad enough that most any of us might find these words appropriate at one point or another in our lives. The first three verses assert how the Lord blesses and protects the one who has consideration for the poor, a phrase which can only likely mean not merely an awareness or pity but an active response to specific poverty as per Leviticus 19. As such, it may be that the sin referenced in v.4 is a sin of omission or commission in this regard – failing to adequately care for the poor. Could it be a reference to Bathsheba, and David’s appropriation of another man’s wife, a man poor in comparison to the power of the King of Israel? Perhaps, but it is not necessarily the case. Verses 5-9 flesh out skillfully the impact of unfaithful friends, of those who do not practice the good will and love of neighbor highlighted in Leviticus 19. How brutal such betrayal and malice is! But verses 10-12 make it clear that despite the ill-will shown to the speaker, God has restored him and protected him from the evil intentions of others, and therefore God is rightly to be praised in the doxology (a short expression of Christian praise of God) of v.13.

Colossians 1:1-14 – Having concluded Galatians, we continue in the lectio continua tradition of Ordinary Time by starting through another of Paul’s letters, this time to the Colossians. Today’s section is comprised of the traditional first parts of a properly organized Roman letter. First there is the greeting that identifies who the letter is from and who it is directed to (vs. 1-2). Then there is a section for thanksgiving, which Paul normally uses to give thanks to God on behalf of the addressees. This is no perfunctory thanks, but a detailed and personalized section. Similar to the Thessalonians, Paul gives thanks to God for the faithfulness of the Colossians as expressed in their love of those in Christ, all of which is motivated by their identity in Christ and the glories they look forward to when they are reunited with him eternally. Paul credits Epaphras with the solid foundation of the Colossians’ faith. Paul speaks highly of Epaphras here and commends his ministry. He is mentioned again near the close of this letter and described as one of you, likely meaning he hails from Colossae and may have been part of the church there before joining Paul in his missionary work. This might explain then why Paul mentions Epaphras once more in his letter to Philemon, where Epaphras is identified as a fellow prisoner with Paul (Philemon 1:23) who sends greetings to Philemon. But Paul doesn’t simply give thanks for the Colossian Christians, he prays specifically for their continued knowledge, wisdom, and faithful living out of these gifts, and that they be strengthened towards endurance and patience and joy.

Luke 10:25-37 – Jesus applies and describes love of neighbor in terms that would be very challenging for his hearers. They likely interpreted the directives of Leviticus 19 in a narrow sense, limiting them to just their fellow Jews. But Jesus makes it clear that such an application is not appropriate. Neighbor is not defined by theological or cultural similarities, but transcends these categories. We should be quick to note that this parable is typically used to exhort us to being good neighbors. But the reality is that each of us has a limit to how much we can love and who we can love. Good intentions are no substitute for the perfect and total love we are called to by the Law of God. There is only one who perfectly fulfills love of neighbor as the moral imperative, and that is the Son of God himself, who both suffers the ill-will of his fellow-man like the man in this story, and in turn shows perfect and selfless love not just for those like him but those who sought to do him harm. It is hard to read this parable and not hear Jesus on the cross interceding for his antagonists, asking God to forgive them in their ignorant hatred.

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