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Daily Bible Readings and Reflections: Week of June 7, 2020

Saturday, June 13, 2020
Numbers 3:1-13

This is the lineage of Aaron and Moses at the time when the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar; these are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to minister as priests. Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord when they offered unholy fire before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children. Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of their father Aaron.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, so that they may assist him. They shall perform duties for him and for the whole congregation in front of the tent of meeting, doing service at the tabernacle; they shall be in charge of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and attend to the duties for the Israelites as they do service at the tabernacle. You shall give the Levites to Aaron and his descendants; they are unreservedly given to him from among the Israelites. But you shall make a register of Aaron and his descendants; it is they who shall attend to the priesthood, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: I hereby accept the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn that open the womb among the Israelites. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine; when I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both human and animal; they shall be mine. I am the Lord.

+ + +

The freedom of the Hebrews came at a great cost: the lives of the firstborn of Egypt. Here is how my former professor, Dr. Walter Deller of Trinity College in Toronto, interprets the situation: “The redactors of the text are clear that this cost is intolerable (it requires the suffering and death of human beings), and therefore, the requirement is laid on Israelites to sacrifice their first born in perpetuity. A community’s freedom is not inherent in its nature, but is always purchased at a cost, and that price involves a permanent obligation.”

Each firstborn Hebrew was, thereafter, consecrated to God. We see this in how Mary and Joseph offer a sacrifice following the birth of Jesus. Perhaps there are remnants of this practice in how, even in the not-too-distant past, it was common for large families to encourage one of their children to seek a vowed or ordained religious vocation.

Life, however, is often more complicated than rules on a page (or stone tablet). So we see in today’s story how the firstborn of Aaron really blew it. Nevertheless, God finds a way through this, and the third and fourth sons were more faithful. Perhaps seeing challenges in this system of offering all the firstborn to special service, the Levites are raised up as a priestly tribe, with a special calling to serve in the Tent of Meeting, which will eventually lead up to the Temple.

In the Book of Numbers the Hebrew people grow as a society, and in the development of their religious system. They were living in difficult conditions as they journeyed through the desert. In our own experience of pandemic/lockdown we as a Church are seeking to be faithful to God in a difficult situation, and new practices — some temporary, others perhaps permanent — have been, and are, developing to meet the needs of the community and to honour God.

One particularly fraught struggle is around how we live out our mandate to remember Christ in the Eucharist, and in so doing, offer up our world to God in a meal that is so meaningful to the Church, yet dangerous in a time of pandemic. The notion of a “fast” has been promoted, though as this fast has continued for longer than initially expected, and with time to reflect on the experience and concept, that notion of fasting seems less accurate than, say, the Biblical notion of exile, or of a wilderness period. The story of the exodus shows us how it is God’s nature to feed and preserve us as we walk the hard road. But we also know from that same story, specifically the episode of Aaron forging the golden calf (or, as we read today, of his sons offering an unacceptable sacrifice), discernment is a necessary counter-balance to quick appeasement. (So as we continue to look to God for guidance and sustenance, let’s remember to uphold our church leaders in prayer, that they would make wise decisions for the common good.)

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Friday, June 12, 2020
Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

+ + +

The first paragraph of this excerpt from Matthew’s Gospel is often called “The First Passion Prediction”, in that it is the first time in the accounts of Jesus’ ministry that he tells his disciples of what must happen when he goes to Jerusalem. It is in stark contrast to Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, only a few lines earlier (Matthew 16:13-20). Peter is all too happy to have a glorious Messiah, he is much less happy to accept a Messiah who suffers, bleeds, and dies. Peter is not the last follower of Jesus who would be much happier if the church emphasised the glorious, risen, ascended, seated at the right hand of the Father Jesus, and made far less of the abused, suffering, crucified, dying ingloriously Jesus, hurriedly rushed into a convenient tomb. As one of my seminary professors was fond of announcing, theologies of glory and churches preaching them abound, theologies of the cross and churches focussing on them, not so much. And yet, as Jesus chastises Peter, focussing one’s faith on a glorious Messiah is a stumbling block, it is a focus on human things; true faith realizes that it is the suffering Jesus who redeems us, and that fact is not to be denied.

In the second paragraph of this excerpt it gets worse. Not only does our faith requires acceptance of a suffering Messiah as our Redeemer, to follow this Messiah also asks us to give up our own striving for glory, and accept our own cross, that being whatever a life of following Jesus brings to us. The great commandment of Jesus, what he asks of his followers, is love of God, and love of neighbour; those who live only for themselves lose their life, waste it, only those who lose their life by living it for God and others are fully alive.

And then there is that third paragraph. Once again I have drawn that metaphorical short straw, and been given a text in the category of “Things I Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said!” What are we to make of “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”? Even at the time of Matthew’s Gospel being written down, that was demonstrably not true!

Commentators have dealt with this saying of Jesus in various ways, none of them totally satisfactory. The details are highly technical, and this is not the place to detail or discuss them. However most biblical scholars would also agree that this is something that Jesus actually said, and yet history tells us that unless we slip into believing legends (such as the Wandering Jew, or the knights of the Holy Grail, still living from the time of Jesus) this prediction of Jesus simply did not come true.

So how do I deal with this saying? I take refuge in another theological discipline, Christology, the study of how the human Jesus is also the Christ, Son of God, Redeemer of the world. Three early ecumenical councils, Nicea and Constantinople, the two from which we get the Nicene Creed, and Chalcedon, defined our beliefs about Jesus, and came to be accepted by both the Eastern and Western churches. (However, the refinements beyond the first two, at Chalcedon, were not accepted by the so-called Oriental Orthodox churches.) The actual definitions of these councils are based in the Greek metaphysical language of (mostly) Plato, and any translation into modern English tends to be misleading, as the words often do not mean what they meant to Greeks. But, very simply put, the person of the pre-resurrection Jesus, contains two “natures”, one fully human, the other fully divine. These natures are fully separate, not mixed together; one theologian states that Jesus was not a theological “scrambled egg”! Another theologian describes this as Jesus not having a trap-door in his brain that allows his human mind access to the mind of God. It is the Holy Spirit, which descended on Jesus at his baptism by John, that guides him into only truth when speaking on matters that pertain to his work as Son of God, Messiah, Redeemer, or what we might call “matters of faith”. When speaking of earthly matters, future happening, the purely human Jesus can be humanly wrong. And the human Jesus can change his mind, learn from experience, even about himself.

One example of the latter is just ahead of the excerpt I am writing on, in Matthew 15:21-28. In that passage a Canaanite woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, and Jesus tells her, in less than polite language, that his mission is only to the house of Israel, not to outsiders. She out-argues him, and he changes his mind, heals her daughter, and in effect changes his mind about the objects of his mission. Jesus, through this event, realizes that his mission is to much more that just Israel. There are other examples of the very human Jesus, who can change his mind, who can be wrong, to be found.

I have no trouble with a human Jesus, who like other humans, can be wrong about earthly things. It gives me hope, as I am often wrong about earthly things, and also, less frequently I hope, about heavenly things. If Jesus can be wrong, I can too; if Jesus can change his mid, so can I. The hope it gives me is that the risen and ascended Jesus, the One at the right hand of God the Father, understands what it is to be human, to be wrong, to change one’s mind, and forgives me the failings of my frail humanity.

And Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, gets all the important things right in our passage, important to those who want to follow Jesus, important to the life of faith. His mission in Jerusalem is not to be the glorious conquering Messiah, it is to be the suffering servant who dies for the sins of the world. His followers are also not to expect glory for themselves, instead, their mission is to follow Jesus and to lay down their lives, give them over, to love of God and love of neighbour. And he will come again, to judge the world, to make it new, to bring it to God. All that is true. Only the timeline is longer than the human Jesus thought. I can live with that!

[Gerry Mueller]

Thursday, June 11, 2020
Job 29:1-16

Job again took up his discourse and said:

‘O that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me;
when his lamp shone over my head,
and by his light I walked through darkness;
when I was in my prime,
when the friendship of God was upon my tent;
when the Almighty was still with me,
when my children were around me;
when my steps were washed with milk,
and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
When I went out to the gate of the city,
when I took my seat in the square,
the young men saw me and withdrew,
and the aged rose up and stood;
the nobles refrained from talking,
and laid their hands on their mouths;
the voices of princes were hushed,
and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.
When the ear heard, it commended me,
and when the eye saw, it approved;
because I delivered the poor who cried,
and the orphan who had no helper.
The blessing of the wretched came upon me,
and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
my justice was like a robe and a turban.
I was eyes to the blind,
and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy,
and I championed the cause of the stranger.

+ + +

June 11 is the feast of St. Barnabas. Forgive me if I skip over him. He was a companion of St. Paul and his adventures are easily read in Wikipedia and elsewhere. My focus was our old friend, JOB.

Writing about one passage from the Book of Job means reading the entire book. The arc of the story is a parable, so you really have to follow the argument through to the end. In the story, Job is rich, with many of the rewards of this life. All of these are taken away. He is left on a dung pile with ugly skin sores and nothing left to him in this world. His friends maintain that he must have sinned for God to punish him in this horrible way. They cannot see Job’s suffering as anything other than punishment for something he has done.

Note the philosophy here, because it is still with us in the prosperity gospel of some of our so-called evangelist preachers. In the view of Job’s neighbours, the rich are under God’s favour and the poor and wretched are not. Success and wealth proves that God loves you. Poverty and disease proves that you have sinned. How many people today belief this?

Job’s so-called friends review all the sins he may have committed. Job denies it all. Not only does Job deny he has sinned, he refuses to curse God for his bad fortunes. He remains true to the Lord, in spite of his low estate. No matter what argument his neighbours take, he counters it with faith.

In the passage in question, Job 29: 1-16, he remembers how he was a well-respected member of the community. He tells how the elders stood out of respect when he arrived at the city gate. In the next chapter, he contrasts this memory with his reception when he had nothing. The sons of low life men from the city mock him and dispise him to his face.

In our time, we learn a lot from Job. He is solid in his faith. He is patient in his suffering. He will not turn in anger against God or curse his situation. He is wise in his debates with his neighbours,
defending himself, but not going overboard by being too preachy.

There is much suffering in our time. Currently, many of us are quarantined in our homes, to avoid the Covid-19 virus which has swept across the globe. Some countries moved quickly to counter this plague and are now opening up their communities and returning something like a normal life. Other countries were very late in responding. Their leaders, who delayed because of denial are now seeing continued waves of infection ramping up as the virus threatens to kill off hundreds of thousands more in their midst. The God that sees the fall of one sparrow, watches all of this.

This summer, the virus pandemic, hurricane season, fire season, drought season, and the spectre of systemic racial violence are all happening at the same time. And, in the USA alone, a very hostile, mean-spirited election is brewing for the fall. So, there will no doubt be suffering in that country as well as elsewhere on the planet. But I can see the hand of God in much of this so-called disaster.

At home, Zoom meetings are bringing together people who would never be able to meet in person. Farther afield, people are coming together at the local level and indeed at all levels of government, working to make society safer and more tolerant.

This year, laws may be passed that protect minorities and the helpless. The ugly face of violence will not be tolerated as much if at all. People will rise up in protest. And the idea that the proof of God’s love is wealth and military power, may be refuted once again, as Job so effectively refuted it in the parable of his rise, his fall and his rise again.

In the end, all Job’s family is restored to him. And his life is given back. There is a message for us in the story of Job. Hold on to the faith. Do not give in to worldly arguments. Love the Lord.

[Peter Mansell]

Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Galatians 5:1-15

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offence of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

+ + +

Twice daily I walk through my neighbourhood, which offers me an opportunity to see spring flowers bloom, trees bud, and more recently congratulatory grad signs staked into front lawns. Typically, spring is the season of passage from one academic level to another. High school graduation inevitably initiates plans for post-secondary studies: which university do I attend, do I apply to graduate school, how do I pick a supervisor, do my marks meet admission requirements, do I live on or off campus, buy new or used books, employ a bus pass or bicycle? The endless list of unwritten rules and expectations is exhausting, so much so that the love and desire for learning can be overshadowed or even lost in the attempt to take the right path and meet societal norms.

During my professional career, I often advised anguished students to develop a love of studying and pursue a discipline that will set them up for success. To help, we would go through an exercise of identifying their goals and planning an achievable path that would assist making learning an enjoyable path to success.

Similar to today’s graduates, many Galatians thought the road to spiritual freedom was following the old laws: do I follow ALL the laws of Moses, is circumcision necessary, what exactly are the rules that will set me free? Some Galatians were so focused on the old law that it enslaved them; they did not experience the liberation of the spiritual freedom offered by Christ. Paul counsels the Galatians to stand firm and not be subject to the yoke of slavery; instead they should realize their faith through love. In essence, Paul asked them to put away legalism and look to Christ, the Christ who expressed love in a gentle word, extended a healing hand, and offered food to the masses.

My favourite line in today’s scripture is verse 6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. Legalism means nothing, only faith in Christ — a faith expressed through love.

What do you think? Does today’s assigned scripture offer comfort? I find (as many of you do) that what I read today has been bolstered with deeper meaning than yesterday. So, whether you are a graduating student looking for a path to happiness, a protestor seeking justice, or a senior seeking contentment after decades of life, look to God’s words through the apostle Paul: Love your neighbour as yourself.

[Katherine MacLean]

Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

+ + +

Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I think about the task of interpreting and understanding scripture. There’s the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages (“what does it really mean?”), the various and sometimes slightly different ancient manuscripts (“what does it really say?”), the intentions and style of the authors (“what really happened?”), the culture(s) portrayed in the text or in the lives of the original audience (“how was this originally heard?”), traditional theological frameworks (“how does this part hold together with everything else?”), and interpretive lenses (“how do contemporary events and perspectives shape our reading and application of this?”). All this might make one’s head spin like a top.

But feeling discouraged and weighed down by all this isn’t helpful. “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away…. No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” In the ancient world, having the ability to read silently was rare, hence the reference to the word being “in your mouth.” Oh dear, there’s some of that historical/cultural background info! But still, even without that tidbit that hopefully enriches our reading, we would still have a general understanding of what the reading is getting at.

The people who received this counsel, and the later generations who wrote it down and rehearsed it, took this all in as a community, not as isolated, self-contained individuals. They were the continuation of the community that had been set free from Egypt, and led by God to a land of their own. When we feel insecure or discouraged in our reading of scripture, we might find solace and support in remembering that we are part of a community, of Christians, Anglicans, and St. Andrew’s parishioners. No one needs to be an expert in everything. Actually, even if someone is an expert in something, an important counter-balance is humility: humility before the text, humility before God, and humility before others. (“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” St. Paul will later write.)

“The word is very near you.” When I think of a life steeped in scripture reading, I’m not picturing someone who just memorizes verses or can remember long lists of names. I’m thinking of someone whose regular practice of reading has led to a greater appreciation of God’s surprising grace (and sometimes frightening power) and Jesus’ radical love. I’m thinking of someone whose prayerful reading has built in them the capacity to respond with maturity and wisdom to difficult situations. I’m thinking of someone who is open to mystery, which is to say, God’s presence, in the world. I’m thinking of someone whose life experience and accumulation of knowledge leads to even more curiosity, rather than a smug sense of self-satisfaction. I’m thinking of someone who sees themselves as a work in progress, and can live with that.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Monday, June 8, 2020
Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

+ + +

Israel was surrounded on all sides by other nations, and the Scriptures contain some very memorable curses against Israel’s neighbours. (Some of the curses in the Psalms are so memorable, they have been omitted from modern editions of the Psalter.) Ethnic hatred has always existed, and while God lays down clear laws to welcome and protect “the foreigner” in Israel, following the law was never Israel’s particular strength. But is this really what Jesus is up to in his encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman—cursing the foreign woman, coming short of fulfilling the law? In our own day, that is the natural inference. But this distracts us from what actually takes place between Jesus and the woman. The protests that have recently been taking place in many cities are a response to a deeply rooted, pervasive, and vicious racism. This is not a context that prepares us to imagine our way into today’s gospel. As much as our Lord’s use of the word “dog” to refer to the woman seems mean and brutal, it is not charged with a history of systematic persecution and hatred, and (deeply anti-biblical) theories of racial superiority. It reflects an imaginative lack on the part of Israel, not an inconsistency between Christ and God. It is the disciples, after all, who urge Jesus to send the woman away. She does not belong here with us, the disciples naturally think. But rather than being racially bigotted and socially brutal (this is, after all, a foreign woman approaching a group of men), Jesus makes an example of the woman in a way that overturns the disciples’ natural blindness, drawing upon ethnic bigotry in order to better emphasize the highest praise that can be spoken of a fellow human: “O woman, great is your faith!”

It seems to be universal that when people are insulted, they either react with anger, flee hurting, or simply hurl back better insults (not “better” in the sense of being more wholesome, but more clever, more outrageous, more insulting). But, as much as we are now quick to think of the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable among us—having now a better collective sense of how name-calling can profoundly hurt people (a sense reflecting God’s own clear desire to protect the needy)—that is not how Jesus sees the woman. Our Lord sees the woman truly, not as less than human but as one not easily beaten down by words. This is shown in the woman’s clever response.

Though bigotry is all too frequently a part of human nature, it was not part of the nature God created us to have and which Jesus came to redeem. Though this is not obvious upon first reading the gospel, bigotry is not in our Lord’s nature. He is a God of the oppressed, one who cares for the underdog. Jesus came not to degrade but to heal—to restore health to God’s creation, not to reduce it even farther. The proof of this comes at the end of the gospel, when Jesus answers her plea: “And her daughter was made well from that very hour.”

So, what happens in the verses leading up to this point? What is not said in the gospel, that we can assume? Jesus knows what the woman wants even before she speaks a word, and he knows also that she will respond to him meekly but boldly (two aspects of being “in faith”). As hard as this may be to believe from a natural perspective, this is God, and the gospels give proof at many other points that Jesus had such knowledge. Recall his words to the woman at the well about her multiple marriages and current relationship. Recall Nathaniel sitting under the fig tree (John 1:47ff.), who Jesus knows immediately upon meeting. Recall the pack of men hounding the woman taken in adultery. Jesus’ response to them does not show him wagering the woman’s life on the hope that they may have also sinned—he sees into the men’s hearts before they see into their own. Our Lord knows these people intimately, and speaks from this knowledge. And this is why he calls the woman a dog: he knows it will provoke her to a bold, brilliant expression of her faith.

But it is not only the woman’s mind our Lord knows in this story, and if we take his words literally, “I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” we can assume he is teaching his disciples an important lesson at the same time. Like a mirror, Jesus reflects the prejudices of his people without actually assuming them himself. Jesus calls the woman a dog not to degrade her but to open his disciples’ eyes. It takes no special access to their minds to know that this is how the people around him see her. Before Jesus speaks a word, we are told that “his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away, for she cries after us.”

As usual, Jesus does not follow his disciples’ advice, and before too long the woman is kneeling at his feet, repeating her plea that he heal her daughter, who is “grievously vexed with a devil.” Kneeling at his feet, the woman says, simply, “Lord, help me,” to which he responds with the apparent insult, “It is not right to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” Far from being frustrated by Jesus’ insult—losing her head in argument or simply running away—the woman shows forth her ability to reason clearly: “Truth, Lord—yet the little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” In addition to a swift mind and a confident heart, these words point not only to the woman’s great humility (without which no one can ever be in right relationship with God) but also to her profound insight into God’s plan in Christ. Leave it to a Gentile to remember that the Abrahamic covenant included not only the nation of Israel but “all the peoples of the earth”!

Yet, while the Gentiles are part of God’s ultimate plan of redemption, God himself set up a dividing wall between his chosen people and the other nations. And, as with walls generally, this fed a bigotry that went counter to God’s greater plan. And so, Jesus plays on this bigotry in order to expose it—using this bold foreign woman to disclose what is to come, the breaking down of the dividing wall that separates God’s people from the rest of humanity. This is why Jesus responds to her as he does: “O, woman, great is your faith: be it unto you even as you will.” In a matter of moments, the woman is upgraded from a dog to a woman. In calling her a “woman,” Jesus is acknowledging that she is not a dog at all but is rather “made in God’s image” (Genesis 1:26), no less than his disciples. And, much more than simply a woman, our Lord identifies her specifically as a woman of great faith.

Showing an admirable quickness to believe, the woman recalls Abram, father of the Jews, ever meekly pushing, advocating for her loved ones, bold despite also showing deep humility. From his response to her, Jesus clearly admires this about her: it is her pushiness that Christ’s name-calling is meant to provoke. Not surprising that, in the early church, this nameless woman is remembered as “the mother of the Gentiles.” So, while today’s gospel seems, on the surface, to be offensive to Gentiles—it proves rather to be an exhilarating episode in God’s story, a revelation of Christ’s divine nature to a Gentile in faith. Now that all people have been accepted in Christ, it is hard not to see in this gospel an expression of bigotry. But this is not how the woman sees Jesus, and we could all perhaps learn something from her great faith, through which she is able to recognize Jesus. Recognizing that he (alone among humans) is holy, the woman asks him to share his nature with her, to restore her daughter to health. Let us approach our Lord Jesus in the same spirit—with the same humility, the same boldness.

[Craig Love]

Sunday, June 7, 2020 (Trinity Sunday)
John 1:29-34

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”


Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.

We haven’t heard that very familiar text, which is sung or said as the consecrated bread is broken for distribution at a Holy Eucharist, for 12 weeks! No Anglicans within the Province of Ontario have, following the directions of our bishops to suspend all public worship for as long as it is dangerous for those attending and those leading. The latest word from our bishops extends that suspension to at least the end of August.

The “Agnus Dei” [Lamb of God] is the 5th and last in the “Ordinary” [fixed liturgical text] of the Mass of the Western (Roman) Rite, but practically is a part of the celebration of what is variously called the Mass, the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, etc. by all churches that “do this in memory of me [Jesus]” regularly, even if not daily or on every Sunday. It is also a text that along with the other 4 parts of the Ordinary of the Mass [Kyrie Eleison-Lord have mercy, Gloria-Glory to God, Credo-Creed, Sanctus & Benedictus-Holy, Holy, Holy & Blessed is He] is arguably a text that has been set to more music, over a longer period of time, than any other text. From the time of development of Gregorian chant (and probably earlier) just about every major composer, and many not so major, has attempted at least one Mass setting of the Latin text, or another language. (Joseph Haydn completed fourteen, and left fragments of a few more!) The settings go from solo voices to massed choirs, and no or single instrument accompaniments to very large symphony orchestras supplemented by brass choirs. The challenge for composers is how to draw out or give new meaning to a text that hasn’t changed since it was added to the Mass by Pope Sergius sometime in the late 7th c. C.E.

The “Agnus Dei” finds its origin in the reading above, in which John the Evangelist reports that it was John the Baptist who first named Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” In v. 29 John the Baptist’s so naming of Jesus is a remark made to unspecified persons, but on the next day, in v. 36, he makes it to two disciples (of John), one of whom is Andrew, brother of Peter, who goes and tells Peter, and the two become disciples of Jesus. Paul also uses the term “pascal lamb” in reference to Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:7), and the Book of Revelation has near 30 allusions to the slain but living lamb, with various contexts and images

Behind these Jesus as Lamb of God images is the sacrificial practice of the Jerusalem temple, in which the offering of lambs to God, who were then slain, was a common ritual. Lambs could be purchased (as well as other animals and birds) and offered as an atonement for personal sin, or as a means of obtaining favour from God. Literally libraries of books have been written, by scholars far more clever than me, to explore and explain how this temple sacrificial practice transfers to Jesus and his death on a cross, and how that effects the salvation of us as individuals and the redemption of the whole world. Entire theological schools of thought, even religious movements and denominations base their existence on one particular interpretation.

Tempting as it is, I’m not going down that particular rabbit hole! Rather than focussing on the “how” – how does Jesus’ death on the cross effect what it accomplishes – I want to briefly reflect on the “what” – what our Lord’s death on the cross accomplishes. As John the Baptist testified, Jesus, Lamb of God, “takes away the sin of the world!” The lambs sacrificed in the temple, purchased by someone for their own reason and for their own benefit, were believed to take away the sin of one person. Jesus, on the cross, takes away the sin of the entire world, the sin of the past, the present, and the future!

But, but, but – we argue, there is obviously so much sin in our world, that obviously hasn’t been taken away! Our media remind us daily of all the sin – racism, wealth inequality, food inequality, oppression of peoples, genocide; unspeakable atrocities in wars, declared and undeclared; exploitation of vulnerable people, modern slavery, and the list goes on. Not wanting to argue with John the Baptist, but it’s quite obvious, looking around 2000 years later, that the sin of the world has NOT been taken away. How do I square that circle? And throwing up hands and giving up is not allowed.

For me, and your mileage may vary, a way of coping with that contradiction is to see it in the same way as another slippery theological construct, the “Kingdom of God”. It is good theology to speak of the Kingdom as being already here, we are living in it, and yet to come when Christ returns to restore all things. We can find evidence that the Kingdom is already here, at the same time we see evidence that we are not there yet. For me, it means believing that Jesus the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, and yet it hasn’t all been taken away, yet.

That’s why I find it important to note that the liturgical “Angus Dei” is written in the present tense! “Lamb of God, you TAKE away the sins of the world, …” It is already done, and it is still being done! And then, who is doing the taking away? Again, it is good theology, and we very often say it, that we Christians, as individuals and as “church” are the “Body of Christ” in the world, We are the eyes, the ears, the hands and feet, the muscles, and yes, the mind of Jesus Christ present in our world today. We are the ones that are charged with the “taking away”!

And yes, most times it feels like we are not doing so well at the task. Honestly, as Canadian Anglicans, we have at times in the past been a part of the problem, and again, honestly, we still can’t pat ourselves on the back and put up the “Mission Accomplished” banner. Neither can any other Christian body! But also, despairing and giving up is not the answer, nor is it permitted, if we are to remain “church”.

This is when I remind myself, and you that, at its roots, the liturgical “Agnus Dei” is a prayer! Twice it asks, “… have mercy on us” and once, ”… grant us peace”. When we recognize our failures in doing the work of Christ, when our efforts in “… taking away …” seem to have little effect, we ask for mercy, and peace (of mind?).

While we haven’t and won’t for some time sing “Agnus Dei” in our church, don’t let that stop you from praying it. Pray it for yourself, for you family friends and colleagues, for your church, for our world:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.

[Gerry Mueller]