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Today in the Spirit: Proper 5B

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At this early stage in the post-Pentecost ordinary season, we continue tracking Jesus through his early months of ministry in and around Capernaum of Galilee. For Proper 5B, the assigned Gospel reading out of Mark 3:20-35 gives us what appears to be two important teachings of Jesus delivered in one day: the first to religious leaders who have accused Jesus of ministering in the name of the devil, and the second to a gathering of potential followers about the conception of family in the kingdom of God. This is the only time these teachings come up in the three-year cycle.

The narrative of the Fall of man in Genesis is part of the Easter Vigil every year and as the OT reading for Lent 1A. Paired with the Gospel reading this week about Jesus and Beelzebub, the assigned reading from Genesis 3:1-21 in Proper 5B draws the attention of the worshiper more to the work of Satan than the activities of Adam and Eve. Clearly, the behavior of the serpent in this passage demonstrates that the house of Satan is not divided against itself (Mk. 3:26f).

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Earlier this year, at Epiphany 3B, we recited Psalm 130, and now we do so again. (This is also the assigned psalm at Lent 5A and every year as an option for Holy Saturday). Surely, on a Sunday when we contemplate Fall (in Genesis), blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (in Mark), and the hope of eternal life (in 2 Corinthians), we are glad to cry out with the psalmist, For there is mercy with you; therefore you shall be feared (4, BCP Coverdale).

The next installment in our Year B series out of 2 Corinthians is from 2 Corinthians 4:13-18. Paul here continues his defense of his apostolic ministry against detractors, and in doing so, we read him declaring again, as he did in last week’s reading, We do not lose heart (16). At first glance, the Collect would seem to be a prayer for an impossible ideal (“that your Church may joyfully serve you in quiet confidence and godly peace”), but in faith, we know it is not too much to ask the God of peace to give us peace and order even in the face of fierce opposition.

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.

The Woman Saw That the Tree Was Good (Genesis 3:1-21)

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (1-6)

Notice how the line, the woman saw that the tree was good (6), looks and sounds eerily like the repeated lines God saw that it was good in the creation story of Genesis 1. (The parallel exists in Hebrew too). This intentional insertion of identical language in the text can be understood to be, to use Tim Mackie (the Bible Project host’s) phrase, an ancient form of hyperlinking designed to convey spiritual understanding. We are meant to see that before she ate the forbidden fruit, the woman was already starting to think, evaluate, and desire in higher ways, like that of God. The temptation was not really to eat but to rethink the command of God and desire it. So James writes:

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (14-15)

Devotionally, we must be reminded here that obedience to God is to hear God’s word and keep acting on it. The minute we stop to think things through, to evaluate the pluses and minuses of following the Lord’s ways, to take account of what is good and desirable, and for ourselves, we are always short of God’s stepping in, sure to fall. My plea is not that we should swear off reasoning altogether–that would be to negate the powers given to us as his image bearers–but to allow the reasoning which dictates that it is best to obey God to reign supreme over any other kind. If we don’t, the desires born out of the possibility of disobeying will overtake us. In the NT reading this week, Paul calls this the spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13)–speaking and acting out of believing.

Today, Holy Spirit, hearing again the account of the Fall and taking note of the Genesis “hyperlink” on seeing the good, empower us to rest in obedience to your word.

I Cry to You, O LORD! (Psalm 130)

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities

Here is an example of a personal devotional song that was, if not composed for, picked up for use by pilgrims ascending to the temple mount. The opening line, Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!, might cause us to wonder, “What depths?” Is it trouble on the outside? Is it guilt on the inside? Both? The beauty of this poem, and the reason we see it so often in the Sunday lectionary, is its versatility. Like the snake oil salesman might say, “It’s good for whate’r ails you,” it is so profound in its direct address to God for a solution.

What is your cry out to the Lord just now? To what depths does it go? The psalmist models the principle that crying out to God is the first step to healing. As you and I surrender to his call to ask, the release from pain begins. See how the psalmist’s strength builds as he resolutely chooses to turn to the face of God. Jesus invites his followers, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). Our response to that call of our Lord must be that of the psalmist:  I cry to you, O Lord! Then, as we wait, we will find our minds settling and our limbs straightening. 

Beloved, today, with the Holy Spirit assisting, stop reeling around in the throes of your own desperate thinking about the difficulty of your situation. Stop and cry out to the Lord, who invites you to do so.

We Do Not Lose Heart (2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (13-18)

Paul is inspired to repeat the acclamation we do not lose heart (Gk: enkakeo, also “give up”) twice in this chapter (4:1,13). This is not a boast of his good character but rather a report of a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit in his life (and that of his missionary partners). You may remember from last week’s reading that he describes how he can renounce disgraceful, underhanded ways in ministry. This week we find him reporting the supernatural ability through thick and thin to imagine the eternal rather than the transitory, to look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. Earlier, he exults in God’s work of building character; here it is in his work of giving perspective. On both counts, they do not lose heart.   

The devotional question is not whether you have the right stuff to serve the Lord but whether you find the Holy Spirit working in you the right stuff. And if we are in Christ, we can be assured he is. So Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Th. 5:23-24)

Today, Holy Spirit, let me see the fruit of good character and eternal perspective growing in me so that, like Paul and his team, I do not lose heart serving you daily.

Who Are My Mothers and My Brothers? (Mark 3:20-35)

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (20-21).

32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (32-35)

Mark’s stated purpose of his Gospel is the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). In our Gospel reading today, we meditate on simultaneous challenges to this claim, one by the teachers of the law and another by members of his family. Responding to the first, Jesus speaks directly to his accusers with simple logic and cutting condemnation. In his family’s case, we find no reported dialogue with them directly. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach potential disciples on his own perspective of family relationships (see similarly in Lk. 9:59-62,14:25ff), but as far as we can tell he never speaks the same to his family members..

Without trying to say too much here, I wonder if there is not some devotional learning here about how we, as Christians, should respond to our family’s objections to the choices we make as Christians. If others speak to us about our life in Christ, we may say we are choosing to follow Jesus first, but should we ever say anything like that to our family members themselves? (When I was young, I told my mother once that I loved Jesus more than her and lived to regret it). No, probably it is best that our witness to our families of putting Christ first should be a silent one, letting the teaching of Jesus to seek him first come to them from another direction. Are you facing any family rejection just now?

Today, Holy Spirit, grant me wisdom to navigate the best I can the objections of my family, both Christians and non-Christians, to my way of life following you first. Let me listen in love, but act courageously to continue my journey with you and permit them to go on theirs.

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.

View more from Geoff Little

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