Friday, October 28, 2011

Some Notes For The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost 
30 October 2011 
Proper 31 in Year A 

The Sentence was chosen to reflect the Gospel passage for Year A; it is not so clear what connection the Collect has with any of today’s readings. 

The Readings
Joshua 3.7–17: The Crossing of the Jordan 
In the reading last Sunday, we heard that Joshua, son of Nun, succeeded Moses as leader of the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 34.9). The Book of Joshua tells of the conquest of the land of Canaan under Joshua’s command. In Chapter 3 we read that the people have come to the Jordan; verses 1-6 tell of the preparations for crossing into Canaan. Joshua has already (v. 5) promised the people that the LORD would do wonders among them. At this critical moment, the LORD promises to Joshua that he will magnify him in the sight of the people, and that this should be the mere beginning of that magnifying : the promise is fulfilled in iv. 14. The comparison with Moses reminds us of what is said, Ex. xiv. 31, how after crossing the Red Sea 'the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.' See also Joshua 1.5 Joshua was first to command the priests to carry the ark of the covenant to go and stand in the Jordan at its brink; then he was to call the people to draw near and listen to the words of the Lord. They followed him, and the river was miraculously divided so that they could cross into Canaan. It was indeed the most unlikely season of the year for such an event, the most hopeless for any explanation other than the immediate act of God without natural means: for at the passover season, about the spring equinox, which is the harvest time in the Jordan valley around Jericho, the melting of the snow on the mountains made the river overflow its banks and spread over into what may be called the outer channel, covered during the rest of the year with luxuriant undergrowth.
Psalm 107.1–7, 33–37
This Psalm is a thanksgiving for the Lord‘s deliverance of his people; this selection is particularly intended to reflect on the crossing of the Jordan. This might be a good place for a helpful comment on the use and meaning of the Psalms in Christian worship [the emphasis is mine]: 
“The Psalter is the Church’s hymn-book. … Those Christians who know their Psalter well, and understand it, have little need of any other hymn-book. … The key to the interpretation of the Church’s hymn-book is that it is intended primarily for united use. The word ‘I’ in the Psalter does not mean the person who is reciting the words. It denotes our Lord himself, or the Church united with him; and if it is applicable to the individual worshipper, it applies to him only as a member of Christ and the Church. The worshippers are meant to use the words, not to express their own personal sentiments, but in order to enter into the mind of Christ and his Church. For example: such words as, I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep thy word (Ps 119.101), are not an assertion of one’s own self-righteousness, but of Christ’s righteousness. The whole of Psalm 119 is a meditation on the perfect human nature and character of Christ.” 
~ G. D. Carleton, The King’s Highway (1924), pp. 170-171. 
Archdeacon Carleton goes on to show how this applies to the various categories of the Psalms. Since today’s Psalm of thanksgiving recites the history of God’s care for his people Israel, we can quote a little further: 
“The historical psalms are used in Christian worship, not simply as records of the events of Jewish history, but because that history is regarded as typical of the history of the Catholic Church throughout the ages: privileged, sinning, forgiven, punished. When we sing of Israel, Jacob, Sion, we mean the Church.”

The Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2.9–13 
The first three chapters of this letter are spent in thanksgiving to God for the faith of the new church at Thessalonica. I have no particular comment to make on this passage, except to suggest that you read the notes at the RCL site and to quote a point made by the New St Joseph Sunday Missal that applies to the last verse: “Not all priests are as gentle, great, saintly, and dedicated as Paul was. Whether a priest’s sermon be good or bad, we should receive the message not as the word of humans, but as the word of God.” 
That’s not an easy discipline to learn.

The Holy Gospel according to St Matthew 23.1–12
After silencing his principal critics, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, by showing that they do not truly understand the teaching of the Law, Jesus turns to the “the crowds and to his disciples. He tells them to honour the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees (v. 2), for they sit in Moses’ seat, that is, they stand in an unbroken succession from Moses, but to beware of their practices! They teach a strict interpretation of the Law but do not themselves follow it; and worse still, they do nothing to help others to bear these burdens (v. 4). Their motive is not love, which seeks to help others, but selfish ostentation (cf. vi. i, 2, 5, 16). Phylacteries:- Two small leather cases, worn on the forehead and on the left arm opposite the heart, kept in position by leather straps. Inside of these cases were slips of parchment on which were written Ex. 13. 1-16, Deut. 6. 4-9, 11. 13-21. In Hebrew they were called Tephillin—prayers ; the Greek, phylacteries = amulets, charms, for they had come to be regarded as possessing a mystic power to protect the wearer against the influence of evil spirits. Fringes on the borders of garments are prescribed in Numbers and Deuteronomy as a way of remembering to live by the commandments. To make broad the phylacteries and enlarge the tassels was a sign of special holiness, of ardent devotion to the law. This ostentatious piety was offensive to Jesus. 
 In vv. 6-7 Jesus gives four examples of their vanity. (“Rabbi” means master and later became a title for a synagogue leader.) He then (vv. 8-10) teaches his followers that Christians are not to use honorific titles. Jesus is our one “teacher” and instructor for we are his lifelong disciples; others teach us only for a time. God the “Father” is our father. Finally, in vv. 11-12 he emphasize the importance of humility and service to one another. It is obvious that the teaching on honorific titles has not been taken literally by Christians. We obviously cannot here go into this question, and will only add a light-hearted comment:


 I CANNOT call you ‘Father’
Because I’m C. of E.,
With such un-English customs I strongly disagree
I can’t forget a precept
 That I was taught from birth:
‘Call nobody your father,’
 The Bible says, ‘on earth.’

‘And be ye not called masters’
 The text announces too;
So do not call me ‘Mister,’
 Which also is taboo.
Such narrow exegesis
 Will, one day, drive you mad;
If `Father` is forbidden,
 What do you call your Dad?

I cannot call you ‘Father,’
 It strongly smacks of Rome;
But I have found a title
 Which brings us nearer home.
I think I’ll call you ‘Padre,’
 As normally is done
Throughout our British Forces,
 Approved by everyone.

But still you call me ‘Father,’
 Which ‘Padre’ signifies;
Your quaint circumlocution
 Deserves a special prize.
For ‘Padre’ is Italian,
 And papal, through and through;
So, why use foreign language
 When English words will do?

I cannot call you ‘Father’
 In spite of what you say;
No argument will move me
 Although you talk all day.
Yet I have found a label
With which I can concur,
And with your kind permission,
 I’m going to call you ‘Sir.’

Of course, you’re only leaping
 From frying-pan to fire,
Your ‘Sir’ is also ‘Father,’
 For ‘Sir’ is really ‘sire’;
So, how you will address me,
 I’m sure I do not know;
But, as my name is Joseph,
 You’d better call me Joe.
 ~ S. J. Forrest


Anonymous said...

I read the same poem during announcements last Sunday. Glad to meet another S J Forrest fan. (The Rev.) Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon

William Craig said...

That is good to hear. I am also pleased to know of a reader as far off as Oregon!