bible blog 1569

The readings are from the catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are meant to keep my thinking real:


First reading

Titus 3:1-7 ©
Remind your people that it is their duty to be obedient to the officials and representatives of the government; to be ready to do good at every opportunity; not to go slandering other people or picking quarrels, but to be courteous and always polite to all kinds of people. Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries; we lived then in wickedness and ill-will, hating each other and hateful ourselves.

But when the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.

Some scholars have criticised this sort of teaching as a “safety first” morality designed to keep the new Christian assemblies in the good books of the Roman officials and their own fellow citizens. Nobody who has not lived in under an oppressive empire should think of offering this criticism. We know that members of the Assemblies were denounced to the authorities by prejudiced  neighbours, by the Jewish synagogues, who saw them as betrayers of the true faith, and by minor officials who misunderstood what they were doing. So a “safety first” policy would have made good sense.

But this teaching goes beyond what safety would require in demanding genuine obedience to the law, cooperation with civil authorities and respect for neighbours. You would have been happy to live mext door to a family that took this teaching seriously. Moreover, even if they are obedient, members are urged to remember that in the past their own lives may have been as disorderly as anyone else’s. Their good standing with God has not been the result of their goodness but rather of God’s compassion. We can note that baptism is mentioned as the cause of new life, not the gospel.This is perhaps a shift in emphasis from the days of the first missionaries like Paul, typical of a  continuing faith community which has developed its own settled customs. On the other hand, the renewal of believers’ lives is attributed to the Holy Spirit as the agent of transformation, as in the first days of Christianity. It’s noticeable however that believers look forward to eternal life rather than the immediate return of Jesus and the arrival of God’s Rule.

burning incense

burning incense

The spiritual enthusiasm of the first Christian Assemblies has been adapted for survival and influence within the Roman Empire. We know that these decent, modest, kindly people were also capable, when pressed, of refusing to accord divinity to the Emperors, thereby risking their lives. The capacity of Christian assemblies to change while retaining the core of faith in Jesus Messiah, although sometimes disturbing to their own traditionalists and fundamentalists, enables them to offer a relevant message to all times and places. Learning how to be a community open and attractive to fellow citizens is part of the message.

Luke 17:11-19 ©
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’

Jesus touches a leper Rembrandt

Jesus touches a leper

Groups of lepers, forbidden contact with the healthy community, feared and loathed by most people, would have been a common sight in Palestine. The gospel tradition insists that Jesus reached out to them and was able to heal them. He was prepared to break the taboo and touch them. In this case Luke depicts the healing as effortless on Jesus’ part but involving great trust on the part of the lepers who obeyed his instruction. In spite of this trust, only one returned to give thanks. Jesus identified praise of God as the response which revealed that the man was truly rescued (saved). Recognition of the generosity of God is for Luke a mark of true faith. The story emphasises that this true faith can be demonstrated by people considered as inferior.

I think there’s little doubt that Luke expected his readers to put themselves in this story, identifying with the foreign leper, acknowledging the healing of their lives, their restoration to community, and their gratitude to God. But beyond that general message, Luke wants to emphasise that God’s goodness does not by-pass the crying physical needs of men and women. The offer of “salvation” (rescue) is not just for minds and souls and spirits but for bodies also. Nor is it only for those whom any society considers worthy but also for those who are beyond the pale. Today these remain very challenging aspects of Luke’s gospel.

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