This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Mumbai weeping Jesus exposed as bad plumbing
Bear One Another’s Burdens
6My friends,* if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil* the law of Christ.3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride.5For all must carry their own loads.
6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
For a start today I’ve added my own translation of this passage which tries to show that it’s sprinkled with quotations, one or two of which may come from Jesus (the law of Christ) and others from proverbial surces, either Jewish or Greek.
Brothers, even if people are caught out in some wrong-doing, those of you who have an understanding should restore them with a gentle attitude, keeping an eye on yourselves, in case you also are tempted.
“Lift one another’s loads”, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
For if you think you’re quite something when you’re nothing, you’re fooling yourself, but each of you should put his own work to the test. Then you can be happy with yourself, as you are, and not in comparison with someone else.
For “everyone must shift his own weight.”
Students of the message are to share their resources with their teachers. Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for “you will reap whatever you’ve sown.” So the one who sows in the field of flesh and blood, will from flesh and blood reap decay; but the one who sows in the field of the Spirit, will reap the life of the age to come. Let’s not grow “weary in well-doing”, for we shall reap, if we don’t weaken. So then, while it is the right season, let’s do good to all people, and especially to those in the household of the faith.
I’ve emphasised what I think are quotations because at the end of this most intransigently personal of letters, containing as it does some bitter accusations, I see Paul wanting to emphasise the common ground he shares with all believers. Perhaps he has two sayings handed down as coming from Jesus “lift one another’s burdens” and “everyone must shift his own weight”, which seem, as proverbial sayings often do, to be contradictory. Paul assigns them to their right context with a sure hand. As regards our neighbours physical, mental and moral burdens we must be prepared to help carry them; as regards our own moral and spiritual development we can’t expect anyone to do that for us: we must shift our own weight.
As for the proverb about reaping what we sow, Paul gives it a novel treatment appropriate to his main message to the Galatians. He refers to his frequent distinction between “the flesh-and-blood realm” and the “spiritual realm”. For Paul the former always means human adherence to everything that excludes God-including apparently spiritual things like ritualistic religion and self-righteousness; whereas the latter means human openness to God-including such apparently material things as caring for the sick and helping the poor. Paul has savaged the Galatians’ desire to re-introduce male circumcision as merely a “flesh-and-blood” ritual that excludes God, and so he encourages them to sow in spiritual soil, that is, in faith and mutual love, if they want to reap eternal life. This sharpens a proverb which may have come to mean in Paul’s time not much more than “what goes round, comes round.”
Being “weary in well-doing” means here that condition in which decent people feel that it’s all give and no get, that a lot is being asked without much return. To those who feel this way Paul urges the conviction that there is a reward: here and now the growth of their human characters; after death, new life forever. Certainly for Paul, Christianity offers “rewards”, which are far beyond human deserving, because “present suffering cannot be compared at all to the glory which shall be shown in us”. Resurrection life is an essential part of Paul’s gospel.
Jesus Blesses Little Children
15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.16But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.17Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
The Rich Ruler
18 A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’19Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.20You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother.” ’21He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’23But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich.24Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
26 Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’27He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’
28 Then Peter said, ‘Look, we have left our homes and followed you.’29And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,30who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’
Here we can see how well Paul has picked up the teaching of Jesus, even if he expresses it in a different register. In this story Jesus judges that the rich man is “sowing in the field of flesh and blood”. In spite of all his apparent religious concern, his main concern is to maintain his wealth. Jesus’ taught that while this constituted treasure on earth, providing an ureliable benefit in the world as it was, it was not treasure in heaven, providing no true benefit in the kingdom of God. The rich man has many things but lacks just one thing: investment in the kingdom, through dispersing his wealth to the poor and following Jesus as a disciple.
Jesus, like Paul, says that the demanding life of discipleship has a reward. Here in this world the disciple gains a world-wide family; and hereafter, life forever.
The teaching of Jesus about investing in the kingdom (gaining treasure in heaven) and Paul’s teaching about religious practice which lets God into one’s life (sowing in the field of the Spirit) are similar and complementary teachings which can be of real value to people who are re-assessing the values by which they live.