This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
51Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,2and live in love, as Christ loved us* and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Renounce Pagan Ways
3 But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints.4Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving.5Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.7Therefore do not be associated with them.8For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,16making the most of the time, because the days are evil.17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These sentences are intended to set out the charateristics of the new shared life of Christian believers.
1. Human beings are to imitate God! God offers his life for them in Jesus Messiah; their lives should be offered to God and each other. This is a daunting standard but one which was announced by Jesus when he told people to be children of their father in heaven and urged them to be perfect even as the father is perfect. “Live in love” the writer says, but he /she is careful to define love “as Messiah loved us and gave himself up for us.” The outpoured life of God is the model for the shared life of Christian people.
2. Believers live “in the light”. This refers both to the enligtenment of their hearts and minds by the gospel and also to the clear shining of the light into dark corners of behaviour. Some have said that there is an overemphasis on sexual morality in this and other pauline criticisms of wrong behaviour. We should reflect that in the first Christian communities no-one was disposable, no-one could be treated as inferior, no-one could be abused. The intimate relationships of members of the community were not to be the subject of gossip or prurience. We should ask how much our contemporary sexual morality is based on the disposability of people and relationships.
3. The light of Messiah’s character is not only critical of shoddy standards; it is fruitful:” the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true”. The goodness that Jesus brings is not utterly new but complements what common wisdom has always known to be good.
4. Christian believers do not need to get high on drugs: the presence of the spirit in their lives brings a joy which nothing can extinguish, a sober ecstasy.
The essential soundness of this teaching is a challenge to the way we live.
The Calling of Matthew
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
10 And as he sat at dinner* in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting* with him and his disciples.11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’12But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.13Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
The Question about Fasting
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often,* but your disciples do not fast?’15And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.16No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made.17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.’
Nobody who reads the gospels can be unaware that alongside the goodness of Jesus there is always a spurious goodness which derives from a warped piety: the way of the Pharisees.
We know from other sources that the Pharisees were reformers of traditional religion who emphasised daily holiness in the lives of the common people. They developed the synagogues in which Jesus preached. Doubtless many pharisees were honestly good people. Yet something had gone wrong. On the one hand, there was a tendency towards arrogant self-rightoeusness, including harsh judgement on “sinners”; on the other there was an emphasis on the observance of daily ritual which kept people free from “uncleannness”. Their condemnation of Jesus’ companionship with “outcasts and sinners” expresses both moral disapproval and fear of the “unclean”. Religion has become for them more important than people. If people are sick, Jesus says, they need a doctor; that’s his job. Indeed, he adds scandalously, he’s only come for sinners: those who insist that they’re righteous are not his remit. Jesus stands with the many prophets who taught that God wanted mercy, that is, kindness, rather than ritual.
As soon as I regard myelf as righteous, Jesus has nothing to do with me. As soon as the routines of religion become more important to me than kindness, Jesus opposes me.
Jesus recognises that communities of God’s people must have customs and routines-the wine of truth has to be kept somehow! But the fresh young fizzy wine of the gospel will always demand new wineskins, new customs, for it would certainly explode the old ones. Fizzy new wine! Exploding wineskins! We don’t need to be happy-clappy to admit that these are challenging images for the Christian community.
Is there a contrast between the strict morality of Ephesians and the companionship of Jesus with sinners? No, Jesus is clear that the people he has rescued were sick; but he does insist that the holy God reveals himself in kindness and healing. The “goodness” of the Christian community is proven in its kindness to “sinners” both within it and outside.