This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Group who sang democratic protest in Moscow Orthodox Cathedral held without trial
12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.13No longer present your members to sin as instruments* of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments* of righteousness.14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.<!– 15 –>
Slaves of Righteousness
15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted,18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations.* For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul is relentless in his insistence that his theology must not be misunderstood as a doctrine of individual salvation after death, but as a here-and-now rescue from the powers of evil and death and an attachment to God’s holy kindness which will be expressed in a new community life. Paul goes so far as to compare the new life to slavery: once people were slaves to wrong, now they are slaves to the right. He insists on this because it would be all too easy to describe his view of salvation as “being put right with God” as a whole tradition of protestantism has done and (disgracefully) one of the main protestant bible translations (Good News Bible) has reinforced. For Paul, as for the writer of John’s gospel, eternal life starts in the here-and-now and is part of God’s new creation of the cosmos. The image of slavery to rightness must be understood as a joyful discipline rather than an imposition, just as eternal life is not grimly earned, like the wages of sin, but is the free gift of God. Wonderfully however, Paul imagines this attachment to rightness affecting the whole human person whose “bodily members” are now obedient to goodness. There is nothing imaginary about the salvation Paul preaches: it’s as real as flesh and blood.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
12 Then Jesus entered the temple* and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves.13He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers.’
14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard* the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry16and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
At a time when Church bankers have disgraced the Vatican, and British bankers have disgraced the nation with their cynical dishonesty, it’s appropriate to ask, “How did they come to occupy such a vital place in our religious and secular temples?” The answer is, we put them there. Just as the Jewish religious establishment encouraged the use of the gentile court of the temple for increasing Temple funds, so our own establishments have pandered to an ideology of “righteous markets” for what they perceived as their financial advantage. When Jesus chased these rascals out of the temple, he was saying that whatever their place in his society it wasn’t the holy place. The blasphemous confusion of markets with God is a constant temptation in capitalist economies. Although the Christian church has no hotline to the blueprint for a just economy, it can follow the example of Jesus in getting the market traders out of the “holy place.” Their activities must not be sanctified but subjected to the same scrutiny as any commercial enterprise.
This passage, along with the Pauline passage above, is very suitable to a day when the Episcopal Church remembers the founders f the Social Gospel movement in early 20th century USA, David Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden and Jacob Riis, the first two being pastor-theologians and the last a photographer who documented the condition of the poor. Rauschenbusch wrote:
” Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus. Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master.”
There are serious criticisms that must be made of the “Social Gospel”: it is of its time in its optimism. But it remains a permanent challenge to all cosy carelessness and obscurantist salvationism in the Christian Church and is a distinctively American contribution to theology.