Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Atonement and Freedom

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 -- Week of Proper 9, Year Two
Jan Hus, Prophetic Witness and Martyr, 1415

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 975)
Psalms 5, 6 (morning)       10, 11 (evening)
Numbers 35:1-3, 9-15, 30-34
Romans 8:31-39
Matthew 23:13-26

First, a note about a new commemoration from our proposed calendar, Holy Women, Holy Men.  Jan Hus [c. 1372-July 6, 1415] Reformer and martyr in Bohemia (now Czech Republic), he was influenced by Wycliffe and tried to reform the abuses of the Catholic Church in his area with an evangelical understanding of communion rooted in moral conversion and holiness and a recognition that the only head of the Church is Christ.  (July 6)

For more, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog: http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/category/holy-women-holy-men/

This struck me while reading the passage from Numbers:  "If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness."  Murder is often done in secret; rarely witnessed by even one, much less two persons.  Yet at the founding of the community of Israel, they create a high bar for passing a sentence of death -- two witnesses.  How many people are sentenced for a capital crime in our justice system without the corroboration of two witnesses?

There is also a high expectation of holiness in the community of the Torah.  Because the spilling of human blood "pollutes the land," there must be some atonement to repay and wipe out the impurity.  A ransom is the usual payment which wipes out an impurity caused by an unclean act or an unclean condition.  But the loss of human life can't bought off.  The Torah establishes the death penalty for murder.  But for manslaughter, for killing without intent, the Torah tells the people to name six cities of refuge, places where one accused of killing may be safe until a trial occurs.  (There is an assumption that the aggrieved family would have appointed an avenger to exact revenge by killing the one who had taken the life.)  Though one convicted of manslaughter is not executed, there is no ransom great enough for the taking of human life either.  The person must remain in the refuge city until there is another death, the death of the high priest in the city of refuge.  The high priest's death is considered an atonement from the defilement of the shedding of blood.  The land is made whole again.

We can hear a hint of this old law of atonement in a few places in the New Testament.  The early church considered the death of Jesus, our Great High Priest, as a complete atonement which heals the earth of all human sin and makes the land whole again. 

Paul's joyful exclamation in today's reading from Romans speaks of the complete victory that is God's accomplishment through Jesus' death and resurrection.  "If God is for us, who is against us?"  For Paul, that is a very rhetorical question.  Paul is certain.  God is for us indeed.  "He who did not withhold his own Sun, but gave him up for all us us, will he not with him also give us everything else?"  We are bulletproof, says Paul.  No one can condemn us.  Nothing can "separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Like manslaughterers who have been confined to a city of refuge, we are freed at the death of our High Priest.

Much of the freedom that Paul embraced was a freedom from scrupulosity, especially scrupulosity for the sake of appearances.  We hear Jesus condemning the religious leaders as "blind guides" who create complicated systems of morality and judgment while "neglecting the weightier matters of the law:  justice and mercy and faith."  The leaders look so good.  They follow the scrupulous letter of the law, even paying their tithe on tiny herbs like mint, dill, and cummin.  But around them they neglect the presence of injustice and suffering, poverty and desperation.  Jesus wants a turning of the heart, which releases love in action.

We are free, Paul says.  God is for us, so nothing can threaten us.  More than that, we are free to act with loving kindness toward all.  What opportunities will be ours today?  How can we express our freedom through love and compassion today?  Any judgment against us is moot.  We are liberated by Christ.  What will we do with our freedom?



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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