This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
“WAR ON WANT” DEMANDS AFGHAN PEACE
1 Timothy 3:1-16
3The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. 2Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. 8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; 9they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. 11Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. 14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. 16Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.
It’s difficult to fault the commonsense wisdom of this writer who uses the name of St. Paul. Anyone who is chosen as an overseer of churches (we shouldn’t imagine these were bishops in the later, catholic, sense) should surely be the solid citizen envisaged here. But would St. Paul, with his background and spiky temper, have qualified? It’s unclear if verse 11 is addressed to female deacons or just to female believers. Once the church ceases to be primarily a charismatic fellowship it requires organisation; and concern for the quality of that organisation is vital. This writer is right in suggesting that the character of the people involved in organisation is the key factor. No mount of tinkering with structures will avail if the people are selfish or lazy. It’s good to remember that at this time all these “officials” were volunteers. The church has two thousand years of experience in finding and using volunteers, a fact which should be of interest to the U.K politicians currently displaying an ignorant enthusiasm for voluntarism as an alternative to social justice. (Google, “The Big Society”). “War on Want”, a charity supported by volunteers, has recognised that there’s not much point in anti-poverty action in a country being torn apart by invading armies, and has called for peace in Afghanistan. Volunteers have a distressing tendency to see beyond institutional or state policies.
MARK 12: 1-12
Then he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 2When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. 5Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. 6He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 7But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” 8So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10Have you not read this scripture:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?’
12 When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
Jesus’s story is not a pretty one. The absentee landlord was a well-loathed figure in Jesus’ society; and rebellious tenants were common enough. The story is a little unrealistic in that any real landlord was unlikely to have been as patient as this one. The real motive and daring of the tenants is revealed when they say, “This is the heir; come, let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours.” Jesus suggests that the religious leaders of his people have a similar daring: they want “Israel” for their own possession. We can easily admire Jesus’ bold characterisation of the religious establishment, but how do we react to his depiction of God as an absentee landlord? Does it depict something real (the real absence of God from his world) or something that belongs to the perspective of the Pharisees (they can’t see the “holy one in the midst”)? I don’t know and the parable continues to trouble me.