Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost YB

Sunday, 16th September 2018

Seeking to write meaningful commentaries on this week’s readings is a good example of the difficulty of the task, without having established some important theological and philosophical foundations which the commentaries need to be based on. As you can see from my website, this is still a work in progress for me.

This week’s readings encourage us to focus on the fundamental issues of reason (science) and revelation.

Proverbs 1:20 – 33

Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.

 21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?  How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?  23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. 24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, 25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,  26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, 27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. 29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, 30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, 31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.  32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; 33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

We reflect on:

  • how we hear the voice of wisdom in our lives; how we recognise the voice of wisdom.
  • how is the voice of wisdom recognised in our society and culture?
  • Have we neglected listening to the voice of wisdom through our rationalistic approach to so many things in our society and culture?

For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, God is communicating in all things. There is no moment of our life when God is not present. Yet tragically, we live in a society and in the dominant global culture where this is either denied or God seems to communicate in a fragmentary and, at times, contradictory way because of the different religions and ideologies.

Despite the wealth of knowledge that we have available to us today; just take Google as an example, we seem to often be blinded by the detail and the extent of the knowledge, that we do not look at the big picture enough. One of the  great lessons of history is to teach us humility in terms of what we understand to be the truth. At any given time in history, there have been groups of people that have been convinced that their way was the right way. Yet history shows that time can give a rather different perspective.

This passage from Proverbs is a good reminder that we can be missing out in our lives on something fundamental; recognising the voice of Wisdom, which Christians believe is the Voice of Christ, God’s living Word; the Word of Life.  At the moment, there are many scoffers in terms of the importance of revelatory knowledge but the time might come when they will be seen to be just that; scoffers!

Psalm 19

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament1  proclaims his handiwork.

 2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

 4 yet their voice2  goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens3  he has set a tent for the sun,

 5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

 6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;

 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;

 9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

 11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

 12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

 13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;4  do not let them have dominion over me.  Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer

We reflect on:

  • how God is revealed in creation;
  • how God speaks or communicates through creation
  • what is the law of the Lord?

As is so often the case with scripture, we come upon from time to time, passages that are at the very heart of revelatory truth. In some ways this is the challenge of Scripture as it is not all of consistent value. The beginning of Psalm 19 is a wonderful example of deep revelatory truth. It speaks to us recognising God in creation, which for us in our time can mean not only in the beauty of creation but in the wonders of the various insights of modern science.

With this as a foundation, we do well to explore the depths of verses 2 to 4.

Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

 3 There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

 4 yet their voice2  goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

I have meditated upon these passages for years as it seems to represent the 2 basic types of knowledge: reason and revelation. The knowledge of the day and the knowledge of the night. The knowledge of the day is one thing. Because there is light, we use our senses, our hearts and minds and act in the light of the day. We work with things that we can observe. Hence the scientific method.

The knowledge of the night is another thing. It includes the knowledge given in dreams but more deeply the knowledge of the heart. The place where we hear, yet it a speech beyond words and that which is communicated is communicated to every living being.  This is the truth we need to learn to hear.

James 3:1 – 12

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters,1  for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,2  and is itself set on fire by hell.3  7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,4  this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters,5  yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

We reflect on:

  • the power of words which James describes of in terms of the role of the tongue in our body
  • how we, both personally and communally, that is in our society and in human life, use words for good or for ill

One of the great strength of the church throughout the centuries has been its faithfulness to seeking to ensure that there are appropriately authorised teachers of the faith. The dark side of this has been that the various different denominations have not taken seriously enough the need to be reconciled one with another and so the authenticity of the Christian faith has been tarnished. Christianity is not alone in this. One of the great tragedies of the modern world is increasing fragmentation of the teacher/disciple relationship. This breakdown applies not only within religious traditions between religious traditions but also within our universities.

It is a truism to state that all of us, especially those in public life, should heed James’s advice about the tongue. To me the root cause of what I’ve mentioned above in terms of faith traditions and the state of public debate in our current society, is a lack of reverence for truth.

Mark 8:27 – 38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”8  30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,9  will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words10  in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

We note part of Matthew’s fuller account of Peter’s declaration of faith:

17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,4  and on this rock5  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16: 17 – 19)

We reflect on:

  • who do people say that Jesus is? Not only in terms of the time he lived in but where we stand in human history.
  • How do we answer the question that Jesus asks the disciples ‘but who do you say that I am?’
  • How we might apply the same process to ourselves. Who do people say we are including our close friends and who do we say who we are?
  • How do we take up our cross and follow Jesus?
  • What does it mean to lose our life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, in order to save it?

Jesus approach to the question of his identity, is simple and direct and a good method for us to adopt. It is the basis of scientific enquiry.

“Who do people say that I am?”

The disciples respond by reporting what they have heard being said about Jesus. We need to go further as we stand some time removed from that moment. We might add:

many Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God, God become a human being, that is that he is both God and human. That the son of God is ‘eternally begotten of the father’, that is that the son of God has always existed. But some Christians say otherwise, such as the Arians and the modern representatives of that point of view, the Jehovah witnesses.

We might also say that many Christians believe that human beings can only have eternal life through him, or words to that affect.

We might also note that many people do not believe these claims at all whilst others, such as Muslims, based on the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed say that Jesus was a great prophet but was not the Son of God. Similarly Mohammed said that Jesus did not die on the cross but that God took him up to heaven and he will come again for the judgement of the last day.

Again others say that although an incarnation of God, Jesus was not the only incarnation of God. Krishna, for example being another incarnation of God.

This is a somewhat fragmentary description of how we might answer that question“Who do people say that I am?”

Then we need to ask ourselves the question that Jesus put to the disciples:

‘but who do you say that I am?’

This is a question that Jesus puts to us directly and asks us to answer it, not just from what we have just heard and that can include the teaching of our church.  This is a question that each of us needs to answer from the depth of our being. In terms of our old Testament reading from Proverbs, to hear the voice of wisdom or in terms of Jesus response to Peter as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, how we hear God speaking within our own being.

This is a very challenging encounter. If we find we do not have the clarity that Peter had, we need not be hard on ourselves but rather we can pray that God will help us experience the truth of Peter’s response.

As Paul prayed at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians:

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”  Ephesians 1:17-23 NRSV

Experiencing the truth of Jesus within our own very being is central to the process of coming to maturity of faith. It is an experience that we grow into through our life in the church and living the dying and rising life.

As we seek to experience our inner response to the question, our own sense of self identity, is also highlighted.  For as  the Swiss Psycholgist, Carl Jung posed ‘is Christ the image of the Self or the Self the image of Christ?’. In our own response to the identity of who Jesus is, we encounter our own true identity.

 

Supplementary readings

these alternative readings raise similar issues from a slightly different perspective.

Isaiah 50:4 – 9

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher,2

that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.  Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.  6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me?  Let us stand up together.  Who are my adversaries?  Let them confront me.  9 It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty

Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 – 8:1

For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.   Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.   She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail.  8:1 She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.

The beauty and profoundness of this passage is illustrative of the importance of the books of the Old Testament grouped together as the Apocrypha and not regarded by reformation churches as part of the canon of scripture.

Some teachers of the church have understood wisdom as spoken of here, as the Holy Spirit.

Attribution

Inspiks. God’s Glory, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55332 [retrieved September 15, 2018]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/loswl/3289021645/.

Scripture Texts from the New Revised Standard Version

 

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