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Friday, August 5, 2011

Proper 15.A and 20 in Ordinary Time

"Thy faith - Thy reliance on the power and goodness of God."

From Wesley's Notes.

Prayer
God of all the nations, in the outstretched arms of Jesus the Crucified you gather the people of earth, diverse and divided, into a single embrace of salvation and peace.  Stir up within us the longing for unity that filled the heart of Jesus your Son, and let our every word and deed serve your design of universal salvation, until all are gathered into your one family to be perfectly one in your covenant of love.


From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts

Wow. Now this Sunday we have an interesting passage! In order to engage this passage we must realize that it comes after a confrontation scene with the religious leaders. Jesus has just been confronted by the authorities who are challenging him that he is not following the tradition of his faith ancestors.  They are acting somewhat like inspectors who are pretty sure the disciples have not been washing their hands before they sit down and eat.  The passage is a direct engagement with the rules of the day which understand the tradition of the religious authorities to be outside the tradition of scripture; and therefore Jesus in our passage today teaches the crowd around him.

Scholars tend to look upon this text as trying to deal with the difference between the Matthean communal rule of life and that of their forebears. 

At the same time we must recognize that while this may be true, we also know that this engagement with the religious authorities was one of the key mitigating factors that led to Jesus' crucifixion.

Jesus is proclaiming a message that connects the new emerging communities with the ancient law of the Israel and their prophets.  The new communities that Jesus is speaking to are certainly continuing Jewish communities.  But the Gentile mission too was quickly to engage as a full member of the evolving understanding of God's widening kingdom.  Jesus is preserving the good news of a God who is in relationship with his people and who makes promises to be with them always even to the end of the ages; a God who promises the abundance of creation.  So there is a sense that Jesus is continuing and reforming. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 537)

Jesus' teaching is essential to a global mission.  Jesus' teaching is the pre-cursor to the Apostolic Decree from Acts 15.20, 29; 21.45.  Wherein the first community of followers of Jesus quickly laid out the boundaries that would enable the Jew and the Gentile to worship God through the particular revelation of Jesus Christ without getting in one an other's way.  The rule prohibited four things: eating meat sacrificed to idols, eating blood, eating strangled animals, and intercourse with near kin. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 538)  These were the rules.

The real focus I think for this passage has to be the text: What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and that defiles a man (15.18).  This is a key component to Matthew's Gospel; indeed the whole of the Gospels. It is mentioned throughout the Gospel narrative.  Too often religion gets overly focused upon ritual and in so doing looses sight of the key component of faith - the direction through the heart of one's life and work.

It is one's intention and attitudes that is a chief characteristic of Jesus' words to his followers.  It is perhaps the center of Jesus' own moral teachings.  Integrity is the result of harmony between thought and act.  Integrity is the result of an action based upon the living word of God brought into being through the vessel of one's heart and delivered by mouth and hands.

This is not particularly new teaching that Jesus is offering his followers. In fact most religious reform is not new.  It is rather a rereading, reinterpreting, and re vocalizing of the ancient words of psalms, prophets, and rabbis.  It is to say that keeping the commandment was good, but that interiorizing the commandment was essential religious work.

Allison and Davies in their work on Matthew write this:

The Psalms, the prophets, and the rabbis all attest the necessity of cleansing the heart and purifying interior disposition.  In the First Gospel, however, there is a regular and emphatic dwelling on the them, so that Matthew remains a constant reminder that Jesus laid an extraordinary emphasis on the real inner religious significance of the commandments.

We are challenged by this passage a great deal.  As a Church we are working through divisions on the different ways of acting out our faith - liturgy, sacrament, and polity. Yet I think we are being judged by those who do not come to church but seek God. We are being looked upon by those who love Jesus and believe he would have similar criticisms of today's church.

I think we are challenged to hold up today's scripture and ask ourselves as individuals and as preachers and teachers what are the things we are most concerned about? What are the items from the last meeting we went to and did not go our way and so now we are harboring as essential to the life of our church? What are the items we hold most dear and most important: budget, altar guild, ritual, grounds, coffee hour?  What are they and how are they connected to the religious heart of our church? How are the things we hold as most important connected to the religious heart of Jesus' Gospel?

This is a good exercise.  Perhaps we should do the work corporately and then offer ourselves to God and be reconciled to God, our neighbor and the world.  Then perhaps we can take genuine step forward in mission reconnecting our words and actions with our own heart and with the heart of Jesus and his Word.

A Little Bit for Everyone

Oremus Online NRSV Text



General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel


Some interesting articles on this passage:

Chris Haslam's clippings blog


Holy Textures


William Loader's First Thoughts


The Scripture:  Matthew 15:10-28
10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just 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.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.

The Kaleidescope Institute has reworked the questions somewhat and can be found here.

Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."

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