Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

St. Michael and All Angels- 29 September

For a comment about the general background of this feast day, see last year's post:

This year, let us focus on the Epistle lesson from Revelation 12:7- 12:

THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

Here we see the Archangel Michael's role in the cosmic struggle between God and the Devil. Michael is the battle leader of the spiritual beings that remain loyal to God. As such we should remember him and give thanks for his continuing service. At the same time, we must be clear about his role. Unlike Satan, Michael does not exalt his own importance and power.

On the contrary, Michael serves the cause of Christ, the Lamb of God who sheds His blood to bring salvation, strength and the kingdom of God. The ancient struggle between good and evil continues, but great victories have already been won, especially through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The evil one continues to afflict humanity, but his time is limited. Thanks to God the Father who gave Michael victory and who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 17:11-19 has a thematic tie with last Sunday's Gospel: a Samaritan. In both cases, a Samaritan is shown in positive light. Last week in St. Luke 15, the Samaritan in the parable showed greater moral sensitivity by being a neighbor to the man who had been robbed and beaten. This week, the Samaritan leper shows greater gratitude and devotion.

As Jesus passed through a village on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, "there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed " (St. Luke 17:12-14). Of the ten, only one bothered to glorify God and thank Jesus, the Samaritan. Christ emphasized this point, and then "he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole"(17:19). So the despised Samaritan who had also been a contagious and disfigured leper becomes the great example of faith in God in general and in Christ in particular.

This point advances the one made in last week's Gospel a step further. Not only is it possible for a person who is not a pious Jew to exemplify better moral behavior, it is also possible for such a person to exemplify greater religious faith. And faith is the ultimate issue. Regardless of all other characteristics, faith in God through Christ is the core of a person's identity. Physical health, nationality or membership in a certain religious group are much less important than a person's faith in and gratitude toward God.

Thus, as we think about the the basic identity of other people we encounter, we must think of their attitude toward God rather than obvious external characteristics. Furthermore, as we think of our own lives, we should not center our identity in worldly traits such as appearance, physical health, nationality or religious affiliation. Instead, we should ask ourselves whether we are humbly faithful and grateful to God for His work in Jesus Christ. For it is such faith that determines who we really are.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this day from St. Luke 10:23-37 contains the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. Of course, that parable has important moral implications, but in re-reading it this time I was also struck by the theological context. Notice the beginning words:Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them (St. Luke 10:23-24). This is a point about the identity of Jesus as the Christ. He is the Messiah whom prophets and kings have longed to see and hear. Those in His presence should be thankful for the great blessing granted to them.

However, the shift to the scholar of the Law provides a stark contrast. This man does not acknowledge the true greatness of Jesus. Instead of being grateful to be in the presence of the Christ, the lawyer tries to put Jesus on the spot. He tries to test Him by posing a question which the lawyer hopes will trap Jesus in some inappropriate statement. In His usual manner, Christ answers such questions with questions and leads His would-be opponent to make an unexpected point. Thus, the lawyer summarizes the Law the same way that Christ does in other contexts:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself (10:27).
Notice again that the theological point comes first. The moral issue of loving the neighbor is dependent upon first believing in and loving God.

Yet, the lawyer is not content. He still desires to gain debating points, "to justify himself ."So he replies to Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" (10:29) At this point, Jesus chooses to end the lawyer's legal debating game. Our Lord chooses to make His point through the parable.

The lawyer and other hearers may have had sympathy for the man who was robbed and beaten. And they probably also expected someone like the Aaronic priest or the Levite to become heroes. Near the end, they might have expected the third man to be a simple pious Jew. But no, the parable took an unexpected turn: the one who had a living faith which was expressed in doing mercy was a despised Samaritan. The lawyer was so upset that he could not even mention the name of the despised sect. When Jesus asked the lawyer who was the true neighbor in the parable, the legal scholar simply replied, "He that shewed mercy on him" (10:37). So the true neighbor is any person who shows mercy, and the lawyer is asked to do likewise.

The truths in this encounter are not limited to first century Palestine. As Christians who acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, we have been blessed in ways that ancient prophets and kings longed to know. We are still called to love God first and then love our neighbors. Loving neighbors is not to become some excuse for self-justification or self-congratulation. It is simply what sincere believers do when they have the opportunity. We are called to show mercy on those that we can help, no matter what group they or we belong to. Such mercifulness can not be reduced to some legal code or minute ethical rules; it is a natural expression of our love for God who is the Creator of all sorts and conditions of men.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

The short selection from the Gospel of St. Mark (7:31-37) seems simple but has rich significance. The location is important: Decapolis was a Gentile territory, and thus the story is one of the few examples of Christ reaching out beyond His primary earthly mission to Israel. Then, after the healing miracle, there is Christ's approach to the situation and the reaction of the crowd.

Jesus "charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak " (St. Mark 7:36-37).
This is an example of what has sometimes been called the Messianic secret. In order to continue His work, our Lord tried to keep the public reaction relatively low-key. He sought to avoid popular misunderstandings of His work and complete it as the Father intended. But the crowd became increasingly enthusiastic as the people sensed the uniqueness of His work. Whether consciously or not, their words echoed Messianic prophecies. He made the deaf to hear as in Isaiah 35:5; He made the mute speak as in Ezekiel 24:27.

As we reflect on this Gospel, at least two points should guide us. First, there is the universal nature of Christ's mission. Although during His earthly life the emphasis was upon ethnic Israel, even then there were hints of the universal mission of His Church. Secondly, there is the unavoidable proclamation of Jesus as Messiah. While it was appropriate to avoid uproar and false interpretations of the Messiah during Christ's earthly ministry, it is now appropriate to proclaim His Lordship far and wide. Jesus has indeed "done all things well" and fulfilled the highest expectations of the ancient prophets. This good news is no longer a secret; it is to be shared to the ends of the earth.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel from St. Luke 18:9-14 is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (or Tax Collector). When he prays the Pharisee gives a true catalogue of his virtues. He is a very dedicated man and many others would do well to share some of his good points. Unfortunately, there is a theological tragic flaw. He is self-righteous to the core. Not only does he praise himself for having a superior way of life, he despises his fellow believer who struggles to approach God. Even worse, the Pharisee seems to assume that he is on the same plane as God and fails to see his own need to be humble and seek divine grace. By trusting in his own accomplishments, he has separated himself from God.

The Tax Collector, in contrast, knows his need for divine grace. Because of his job working for the Roman oppressors, he is an outcast. And if he is like most of his profession, he is not a very nice person. Tax Collectors were noted for padding tax bills, extorting every penny they could, associating with the criminal fringe and oppressing the poor. Yet, this Publican has a conscience. He approaches God in humility, acknowledges his sinfulness and places his trust in divine grace and mercy. And it is this Tax Collector who returns from prayer justified by faith in divine grace.