Engaging the Word: 02/19/17 (The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. Our readings this week challenge us to reflect on how well we match up with the way God calls us to live with the way we actually live.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18: Leviticus is the third of the Five Books of the Torah, which are the first five books of the Bible. It’s presented as the instructions Moses received from God after the Israelites escaped from Egypt and were camped at Mt. Sinai. Most scholars agree that the book grew over a long time, and reached its final form in the post-exilic period. It contains the laws, rules, and practices for God’s chosen people, and includes sections on sacrifice, the priesthood, worship, purity, and the Holiness Code—instructions on practicing holiness in every aspect of daily life. We read from Leviticus once every three years. Much of the instructions no longer apply, such as the sacrifices of animals and grain to atone for sin and restore right relationship with God. Jesus, the Lamb of God, made the final atoning sacrifice for us on the cross.

The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet, 1857. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet, 1857. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Other instructions have timeless and universal value. This week’s reading is from chapter 19 of the Holiness Code and focuses on living as holy people in community. God says to his people: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The ethical principles of 3,000 years ago still stand today. Show consideration for the poor. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deal falsely. Do not defraud. Pay wages promptly. Judge fairly without showing favoritism. And most important, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Psalm 119:33-40: This week we pray another stanza of the longest psalm in the Bible. The psalmist prays to learn God’s laws and keep God’s commandments. I have many highlights in this section in my Prayer Book:  “Teach me…Give me understanding…Make me go in the path…Incline my heart…Turn my eyes…Fulfill your promise…Turn away the reproach…in your righteousness preserve my life.”

The Apostle Paul by Rembrandt, c. 1657. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Apostle Paul by Rembrandt, c. 1657. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23: This week’s reading continues Paul’s argument that the Christian Corinthians need to get over their idea that people “belong” to human leaders like Paul, Apollos, etc., who were simply servants of God, and no one “belongs” to any leader but Christ. Paul identifies himself as a skilled master builder who laid a foundation by establishing churches, and others build and maintain them. But Paul also recognizes the true foundation of his vocation: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” Paul continues with the building metaphor: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. “ Commentators say that, in this case, Paul is not using the temple metaphor to refer to individual Christians, but to the Church community. Elsewhere in this letter, Paul affirms that the Holy Spirit dwells within each individual, but here he is concerned about divisions within the Church, and the squabbling groups that endanger the unity of the church with their misplaced loyalties. Thus, Paul says, “So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch 1877. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch 1877. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 5:38-48: In this week’s Gospel, Jesus continues with The Sermon on the Mount. These are very challenging teachings. Here is the full lesson: Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In his book A Lector’s Guide & Commentary, J. Ted Blakeley says a better translation of “Do not resist an evildoer,” is “Do not resist an evildoer by evil means.” This is the principle that Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. followed. They were not passive in the face of injustice, but they did not return evil for evil. The kingdom of heaven is not the world’s way. But what if Christians really put them into practice? What if we went beyond fairness to reconciliation and love? One thing I know is that I have a long way to go—or better, a long way to grow. And, with God’s help, I’ll take another step on the Way.

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