Above: Byzantine Mosaic of John the Baptist, from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Called to Bring People to God
The Sunday Closest to August 3
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
AUGUST 3, 2014
AUGUST 6, 2017
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #1
Genesis 32:22-31 (New Revised Standard Version):
The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Psalm 17:1-7, 16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;
give heed to my cry;
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.
2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence;
let your eyes be fixed on justice.
3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night,
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.
4 I give no offense with my mouth as others do;
I have heeded the words of your lips.
5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.
6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;
incline your ear to me and hear my words.
7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against me.
16 But at my vindication I shall see your face;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #2
Isaiah 55:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
8 The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 The LORD is loving to everyone
and his compassion is over all his works.
15 The LORD upholds all those who fall;
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
16 The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD,
and you give them their food in due season.
17 You open wide your hand
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
18 The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving in all his works.
19 The LORD is near to those who call upon him,
to all who call upon him faithfully.
20 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and helps them.
21 The LORD preserves all those who love him,
but he destroys all the wicked.
22 My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD;
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.
Romans 9:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):
I am speaking the truth in Christ– I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Matthew 14:13-21 (New Revised Standard Version):
Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Follow the URL for thoughts about Jacob’s all-night wrestling match:
The call of God transformed a schemer named Jacob into a the patriarch Israel. That mandate was to be a light to the nations, and it applied to the Israelite people as a whole. (It still does.) To be set aside as chosen is to receive a great responsibility. This is a matter of duty, not prestige.
That duty is to bring diverse peoples to God. Read Matthew 13, which contains parables of inclusion. The mustard plant was inclusive in so far as animals of various species took shelter within it. This mustard plant was an allegory for the Kingdom of God. And, when we turn to the wheat field infected with tares and the net full of good and bad fish, we read that God will sort out the good and the bad, the wheat and the weeds, later.
We read also in Matthew 13 that the Kingdom of God is precious, worthy of single-minded devotion. Consider the brief parables of the pearl and the treasure.
So here we are in Matthew 14, following those parables and the execution of John the Baptist. He drew people to God. But lest we oversimplify, and say that we must always be nice, consider the examples of Jesus and John the Baptist. They used harsh words when appropriate, and they contributed greatly to these holy men going to their deaths. Read the prophets, also. Was Jeremiah habitually polite and respectable? No, of course not. All these men suffered because of the ways they brought people to God.
Even being nice scared people and put Jesus at risk. Few actions are nicer than feeding people. But this and other miracles scared certain individuals who had the power to execute Jesus or to arrange such a death.
Why do we fear good, holy people at any time, in any place? Sometimes their examples reveal our own shortcomings. So, instead of seeking to correct our errors, we react defensively. Or, in the case of Jeremiah, Jesus, and John the Baptist, they threaten power structures–such as domestic and foreign potentates and religious hierarchies. And, in a society lacking the separation of religion and state, powerful political figures can label theological dissent as treason, or at least a moral threat to society. This happened in the Byzantine Empire, too, and, in North America, in colonial New England. (Puritans hanged Quakers.)
So being a light to the nations is a perilous vocation. But it is God’s call. It is the way to life, even if death is a stop along the way. Countless saints, many of them martyrs, continue to teach this lesson by the example of their lives, even many years after their earthly journeys ended. And contemporary martyrs and other saints do the same. Potentates who persecute think that they can eradicate a message they fear. But, time after time, history proves that the blood of the martyrs waters the church. Persecution usually has the effect of increasing the brightness of the light the persecutors seek to extinguish. These persecutors do not learn quickly or at all, do they?
And so the Kingdom of God continues unabated, much like the mustard plant Jesus used as a parable illustration.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
–John 1:5 (Revised Standard Version)
Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on January 14, 2011