This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
1 Timothy 5:17-25
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching; 18for the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain’, and, ‘The labourer deserves to be paid.’ 19Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear. 21In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I warn you to keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality. 22Do not “lay hands” on anyone hastily, and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.
It seems good that the church should have developed systems of reward and punishment to protect the quality of its leadership. It’s not clear from the text whether the reward for preachers and teachers is material or not: the word translated “honour” is ambiguous. The punishments are clearer, involving loss of honour. Here the church used a
well-established social code within Mediterranean societies which had established customs for the giving and receiving of honour. The church’s capacity to adapt established custom and belief for the benefit of the gospel has served it well through the centuries, and provides a critique of those who see the church solely as “aliens on the earth.” True, it is not “of the world” but it shouldn’t pretend it’s not in the world.
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ 32Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Jesus might have seen the questioner as hostile but he answers his question, listens to what the other says, and commends him. He shows how we should conduct ourselves in debate. The love of God comes ahead of love of neighbour because the first makes us fit for the second. On its own love of neighbour can degenerate into the lowest common denominator of mutual support and approval. The first commandment demands the passionate commitment of the whole person to God, indicating the depth, breadth and balance of that commitment, without which devotion may become arid or merely emotional or ritualistic.
Here Jesus sets out the basis of what Christians share with the other monotheistic faiths. To celebrate this shared love of God and neighbour with Moslems, Jews, Sikhs and others is a fundamental form of ecumenism today. If we had spent the time with Moslems that we have spent in denominational negotiation we might have contributed more to the peace of the world than we have. I have heard it said that although we share monotheism we do not share the same God. Well, as a Christian believer, do I share the same God as Sarah Palin? I guess I do, although we see him differently. I should try to understand her faith (and even learn from it!) while being ready to question it. The same- with fewer difficulties- is true of my relationship with other monotheists.