Today in the Spirit: Proper 5A

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Easter Day fell toward the middle of April this year, so we are jumping in the ordinary season all the way to Proper 5A for readings on the Second Sunday After Pentecost. The Collect petitions God who is sovereign in the world to grant the Church a peaceful environment in which to accomplish the work of the gospel. The appointed Gospel reading in Matthew 9:9-13 is the story of the conversion of the apostle Matthew and its aftermath, during which Jesus is found confronting the Pharisees (and the pharisaical tendencies in all of us) for putting religious sacrifice ahead of mercy in their relationship to God. The assigned OT reading in Hosea 5:15-6:6 contains the key line Jesus uses in his rebuke of the Pharisees, but in the context of Hosea itself it is a condemning word against Israel for forming alliances with other nations and worshiping their gods. Psalm 50 is a song of prophecy with a message of rebuke from YHWH first for his consecrated ones and then another for the wicked, both strangely similar. By Proper 5A lands we are in the middle of a series of assigned NT readings in the early chapters of Romans–this week Romans 4:13-18, where Paul builds his case for the revelation of righteousness of God apart from the law and justification by faith in Jesus Christ. 

The Collect

Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by your providence, that your Church may joyfully serve you in quiet confidence and godly peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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That We May Live Before Him (Hosea 5:15-6:6)

I will return again to my place,
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face,
    and in their distress earnestly seek me.

“Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him (5:15-6:2).

In our assigned Gospel reading we hear Jesus challenging both the Pharisees and his disciples with the familiar words in the final verse of this Hosea passage. In the context of the Book of Hosea, we find YHWH coming down on both Israel in the north and Judah in the south for making alliances with nations around them, especially Assyria, and worshiping foreign gods as idols. The statement of repentance beginning with, Come, let us return to the LORD is most likely YHWH’s own rendition of a sarcastic, hypocritical response from the people dismissing the rants of yet another prophet. Ironically, however, super ironically, their words predict the coming of Christ: After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Devotionally, both the content and composition of this passage in Hosea causes us to stand in awe (once again) of a God whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are higher than our ways. Everything we say and do, even our words of bitter rebellion, in the economy of God ends in the establishment of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. God will have his way with us as a human race, thankfully for mercy and not complete destruction as we deserve.

Today, Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised you would take from what is his and make it known to me, take also from what is mine, even the worst of me, and make it known in the world as Jesus.  

He Does Not Keep Silence (Psalm 50)

Our God comes; he does not keep silence;
    before him is a devouring fire,
around him a mighty tempest.
He calls to the heavens above
    and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge! (3-6).

The only other assignment of Psalm 50 in the three-year Sunday lectionary is on Advent 1C. At that time what catches our attention are phrases as in the first half of verse 3: Our God comes. Now in Pentecost, the season of life in the Spirit, I wonder if what stands out more is the second half: [God] does not keep silence. That phrase speaks to us, of course, of a future judgment in which all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). But God has come now in Christ and his Holy Spirit; and through them he has spoken and continues to speak puzzling, difficult but winsome words into the hearts of all people, that they might turn to Christ and the Father (see my comments below on this week’s Gospel reading). God has broken silence for good with Jesus. This week in the Gospel reading the Son of God declares, For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13). Next week, out of his second teaching discourse in Matthew, he will give the instruction, Freely you have received, freely give (10:8). Gather to me my faithful ones, Israel’s LORD says to us in this psalm, God himself is judge, and, see, he is among you. 

Today, Holy Spirit, open my ears to hear the words of Jesus as a merciful end to silence from heaven..   

That the Promise May Rest on Grace (Romans 4:13-18)

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

The Apostle Paul is doing everything he can to convince the Jewish Christians in Rome that, while it is true they were given the Law and the Prophets, their standing before God is no greater than that of anyone else. The promise of new life rests entirely on grace received through faith, so that everyone is on an equal footing, owing everything to God through Jesus Christ.  Gratitude, then, is the primary sign of a healthy Christian community.  You have preaching, music and outreach in your church, good–but is there above all that unmistakable air of thanksgiving? Paul seems to be asking Timothy much the same question about the church in Ephesus when he writes: For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5).  

Today, in the Spirit, pray for your local church, and yourself as part of it, for the whole body to grow in gratitude to the Lord, that the promise [of eternal life] may rest on grace.   

Go and Learn What This Means (Matthew 9:9-13)

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It is important to note that Jesus directs these final words not only to the Pharisees here but also to his disciples. To all listening, our Lord says: Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. The command is, Go and learn–we may fairly ask how? How can anyone with a hardened heart full of the inclination toward sinful pride and self-righteousness be expected to grasp what ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ (from Hosea 6:6, our OT reading this Sunday) really means and apply it? We cannot. Nobody can. Psalm 25:12 puts forward another question along the same line: Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. It is God who relentlessly softens the heart and coaxes mercy out of hardened human beings. Oswald Chambers describes this never yielding divine pursuit for mercy in us as being “haunted by God,” concluding: “The whole of our life inside and out is to be absolutely haunted by the presence of God. A child’s consciousness is so mother-haunted that although the child is not yet consciously thinking of its mother, yet when calamity arises, the relationship that abides is that of the mother. So we are to live and move and have our being in God, to look at everything in relation to God, because the abiding consciousness of God pushes itself to the front all the time” (my emphasis). So we find that the command Go and learn in this passage is not a threat so much as an invitation to give into the enticements of a Teacher who never gives up the chase to make us in his image.

Today, Holy Spirit of Jesus, I thank you that by grace you are enabling me to learn each day something more about your mercy, not my sacrifice.

Today in the Spirit

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Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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