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Ordinary Time 9 (B)
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Readings for the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Deuteronomy 5, 12-15

  • I listen to the commandment of the Sabbath Day and one ancient commentary on it.  For two millennia we have held this day to be superseded by the Lord’s Day.  For this we have taken what we believe to be the authority of Christ, as declared in today’s Gospel.  But I should not treat this reading as a mere museum piece.  Exhumations of the past have no place in our public prayer, where we celebrate Christ present and triumphant.
  • First of all, it is the one God who gave the commandments to Israel, and who gave his Son to everyone.  Moses bears witness: Take care to keep holy the Sabbath day as the Lord, your God, commanded you.  Deuteronomy makes the covenant always current and present to the people. 
  • Then I hear that the day is holy because it is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God.  It is God’s day; it belongs to God, not to us.  When I say it I will emphasize the words Lord your God.
  • No work may be done then.  If in fact I actually notice what Moses is saying, I brush it off because I don’t take it seriously.  If that is my reaction, imagine how our congregation will take it.  Our post-industrial culture reminds us that it is our time and our money, and that we are free to dispose of both just as we wish. 
  • But if it is not a day for us to slave for our own ends, neither are we to use it to serve the servile purposes of another god.  It is a day of freedom: The Lord, your God, brought you from Egypt with his strong hand.  It is not a day “for himself,” as it were, but for God to share with us, to keep holy, rest and observe.
  • Central theme: The Lord your God is repeated four times. 
  • Message for our assembly: We cheapen this day when we imagine it as belonging to us.  We even cheapen it when we dedicate just a single part of it, whether that be an entire morning or evening, to God’s praise.
  • I will challenge myself: At the very least, my words will confront the assembly with another world view, fostered by those who we believe were present at the beginning of Judaism and of Christianity.

 

2. II Corinthians 4, 6-11

  • The apostle makes a bold claim, that God is using us to get the Good News out.  This is what I hear: to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God.
  • I am nearsighted, and I have the sense of tiptoeing through the passage like one without his glasses, in need of the missing focus.  Let me live with these words a while, saying them over and over until they surround me with their moral force.
  • God has shone in our hearts.  It is a new creation, in which God works in us.  Our contributions are our earthen vessels.  Let me speak with realism here about myself and my listeners, to bring out clearly the contrast between our own fragile efforts and the surpassing power of God.
  • Now I hear four pairs of contrasts, and I will take care to echo the optimism in the apostle’s words, that themselves would make an excellent halftime speech: afflicted in every way but not constrained, struck down but not destroyed. 
  • Finally come the words that declare our noble calling to identify with Christ: always carrying in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.  The next sentence in the letter is a kind of gloss on the first, reminding the readers of the way they come to that death.  For that reason I plan to give equal weight to that explanation, because we are not sadists any more than Jesus was: We who live are constantly being given up to death.
  • The message for our assembly: The way of Christ is a demanding way for those who desire to be with him.
  • Central theme: The face of Jesus and the life of Jesus.  This defines us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. 
  • I will challenge myself: To live with the passage, carrying it in my mind and heart until I can repeat it with a conviction equal to that of the apostle.

 

Gospel. Mark 2, 23 to 3, 6

  • I hear two separate passages that are both related to Sabbath observance. 
  • The first passage describes something that looks like a minor infringement of the letter of the law, as we would say today.  His disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain.  If these actions are what I think they are, we would call them misdemeanors: trespassing and intentional damage to property.  That is what the School of the Americas defendants were convicted of doing.
  • Jesus defends his disciples by quoting from another book outside the Torah, about What David did when he and his companions were hungry.  It looks like a convenient and clever escape, but I also remember that the rules for Sabbath observance have been fairly fluid across Judaism then and today.
  • The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.  I will remember the context of Deuteronomy here.  Who in fact made the Sabbath for man?
  • I really want to spend most of my effort on the second passage, the story of the cure of the man with a withered hand.  We are not at Simon’s house now after Sabbath, but inside the synagogue during Sabbath.  An even greater lesson is about to be delivered, and now they watched him closely to see if he would. 
  • I notice right away that this man did not come up to him and ask to be cured.  He said to the man, Come up here before us.  Jesus does not wait for people to come, but goes out to people in their need as God would.  And he does this above all on the great day in which the people commemorate their freedom.  Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, to save life rather than destroy it?  And I think further: Is it an obligation to do good rather than do evil?  I can provide a hint of that next step by the way I read the words of Mark.
  • Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart; once again I hear the human Jesus and notice above all why he is angry.  Let me find a tone of anger today at so much insensitivity around us.
  • Finally, I notice that Jesus merely spoke, not in anger but in invitation: Stretch out your hand.  The man did not ask for a cure, but he showed his faith.
  • Climax: The Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.  It summarizes and interprets the events of the first passage and becomes itself the lesson of the second.
  • Message for our assembly: Jesus does not reject the Sabbath Day but rather elevates it to a higher plane.  Are we ready to live the Lord’s Day in this spirit?
  • I will challenge myself: To echo in my voice the deep longing of the Lord to do good for others, so that his longing becomes our longing.

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