This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news

Rich give millions to Romney to oppose healthcare

Romans 6:1-11

Dying and Rising with Christ

6What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.7For whoever has died is freed from sin.8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

“The death he died, he died to sin, once for all”  How can this be a right description of the crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman power? Paul does not excuse the killers of Jesus. He ignores them and concentrates solely on Jesus who put himself in peril out of obedience to God. All self-preserving actions were rejected out of his love and obedience to God. In this sense, although his death remains a crime, it can be called a “death to sin” that is, an end to all that closes a person to God and an expression of all that opens him to God. The crucifixion expresses Jesus’ terrible openness to God; and God responds by raising him to new life.

Baptism in Paul’s church was seen as uniting the believer with both the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Paul emphasises that this is more than symbolic: believers will regard themslves as dead to all self-centredness (sin) and alive to the new life of the risen Christ. Far from being “soft on sin” as some of Paul’s critics may have accused him, his teaching of salvation through trust in God rather than obedience to Torah, is actually far more stringent: believers must put their old selves to death as they unite themselves with Christ. Elsewhere, Paul admits that our old selves are not completely dead. Sometimes they manage to take over again and cause us to forget about God and our neighbour. So, in a sense our baptism is life -long: all our life is a process of dying to sin and living for God, a process that is only to be completed in God’s good time. Meanwhile we trust that it is the only way to true life.

Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Jesus enters Jerusalem: Giotto

21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.*4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.8A very large crowd* spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Matthew’s story of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem is part of his story of his suffering. Sure of his own mission, Jesus puts himself in the place of danger because it is also the place where he must assert his claim to be the true ruler of his people. We can see this section of the gospel as Matthew’s version of Jesus’ sacrificial obedience to God and what Paul calls his “death to sin.” Matthew depicts Jesus as acting in total obedience and without any self-centredness, but the picture is not grim. It shows the rich humanity of Jesus and his popularity with the “little ones” of Jewish society. His obedience here involves his identification with Zechariah’s prophecy of a king of peace who comes in humility riding on, in Matthew’s misinterpretation of the original, a donkey AND a donkey’s foal. (You’d look daft enough riding a donkey without trying somehow to ride its foal as well). The atmosphere is that of a village festival. In King Jesus, the country comes to town. “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” means “the prophet Jesus from Hicksville, Mid-West.” We see that Jesus’ complete obedience and self-sacrifice includes celebration, humour, politics  and public display.

These two passages complement each other. Paul gives us the sober doctrine, Matthew depicts its humanity. Surrender to God and the death of self are a liberation of our humanity rather than its loss.


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