Today’s readings are quite varied in their content and message, I think, so I will look at each one as they stand alone.
First, the reading from Jeremiah. We are getting four weeks of readings from this book during our Pentecost season; this reading is our second one. Jeremiah the prophet lived around the time of 627BCE to 582BCE, which coincided with the leading up to and the destruction of the first Jewish temple of Solomon and the Jewish exile in Babylon. Jeremiah did not mince words in telling the Jews how they ended up in their situation—pagan worship led by their priests, and lives based on greed, infidelity and rebelliousness, basically everything against what God wanted for them. (Actually one could point out parallels in today’s society—the philosophy of me first, extreme greed, the rich get richer while ignoring the problems of the poor, fighting and wars over control of the world’s resources, religions fighting against other religions, even Christians fighting about who is more Christian.) The result for the Jews—taken into exile away from their own lands and their worship place destroyed. The result for our transgressions today—we’ll see!
Second, the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. This is our last week of four in hearing words from this book. The letter was likely written from Rome where the apostle Paul was being held by the Roman authorities, around 63-64AD. The actual authorship has been generally attributed to Paul, although since it was looked at in the early 2nd century there have been questions about this. The cool part I think is a theory with some amount of followers that say that Priscilla was the writer. She was a woman of Jewish heritage and was one of the earliest known Christian converts who lived in Rome. Priscilla was thought to have been the first example of a female preacher or teacher in early church history, who along with her husband Aquila, was a celebrated missionary, and a friend and co-worker of Paul. The reason some believe her name was omitted from the actual text was either to suppress its female authorship, or to protect the letter itself from suppression.
This letter was likely written for Jewish Christians, and could have been focused on an internal debate between extreme groups—one side saying non-Jews must convert to Judaism before they can receive the Holy Spirit vs. the other side saying Jews must reject God’s commandments and that Jewish law was no longer in effect. The book of Hebrews emphasizes that non-Jewish followers do not need to convert to Judaism to share in all of God’s promises to Jews. The book of Hebrews also argues that the Hebrew Scriptures also foretold that the Messiah would be a priest (although of a different sort than the traditional Levitical priests) and Jesus came to fulfill this role, as a sacrificial offering to God, to atone for sins. His role of a king is yet to come, and so those who follow him should be patient and not be surprised that they suffer for now.
Our reading today tells the Hebrews (and us) how to live in this time while waiting for Jesus to return, and it looks a lot different than how we see many people live today, including some of the religious leaders. Hebrews reminds us what our focus and priorities should be—treat others with mutual love, provide hospitality to strangers, remember prisoners and the tortured, be an ethical and moral person, and stay free from the love of money, knowing God is with you.
Our Gospel reading from Luke today has basically two unique messages. The first one to me is one of using common sense to know whether one should “work” on the Sabbath to deal with critical issues, like healing someone or saving one’s child or ox from a well. Following the Jewish law had gotten very extreme among some of the Pharisees and lawyers, so Jesus challenged them to get real and do what is logical and reasonable instead of being purists for the sake of it. (Where do we see that issue today in some Christians' literal reading of the Bible?)
The second message from Luke today is to show one how to view their place in society. Jesus explains that it is best to seek a lower (more humble) place, and let others recognize you for your good character and humbleness. He also said that it is good to do your best in helping others in need, and not to focus on just those in your own circle of friends. (This all helps to remove the issue of class defining who is worthy and who is not, and is much needed in today’s society.)
This week I talked with one of our priest friends we were visiting, and she told about a couple of situations she had encountered in the past where two things had been said that really shocked her. A person she worked with in a church setting actually said that when they had heard the Gospel reading one Sunday that it needed to be removed and not used again. The reading was about the rich young ruler being told by Jesus to give everything to the poor to enter the kingdom. Our priest friend said to the person that the readings were set by the church and she could not skip them, and also asked if that reading had made the person uncomfortable. The person said they needed their millions of dollars to live, and that maybe she as the priest could live on much less, but they couldn’t. Also, another person told her that after Hurricane Katrina that they wondered why the people didn’t all just drive out of the flooded areas. Our priest friend explained that not everyone had the means to do that (no transportation), and were very poor. The person just looked at her like this made no sense—that the poor did not exist.
To finish, I want you all to know that in the midst of all we deal with in the confrontational politics of today, that our trip to Arizona with our son Jim III, grandson Oliver, and Bonnie’s sister Paula was absolutely wonderful. We saw a whole lot of magnificent American scenery, lots of history, and a lot of really nice tourist people also on vacation. For me, it was very important, because of my health issues a few months ago who knew where I would be now. We have a tremendous country in which to live and a whole lot of people who truly want nothing else but to make everything in our society all work out for the best. We just need to focus on what is most important—which is government and laws that are fair to everyone and provide the best opportunities for all to get to succeed in life. Hopefully God as defined by whoever’s religion is involved in their lives and is at work in making that happen; regardless we all can help make it happen by how we treat others and help others to see and do the same thing.