Monday, September 20, 2010 -- Week of Proper 20, Year Two
John Coleridge Patteson, Bishop of Melanesia, and his Companions, Martyrs, 1871
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 985)
Psalms 80 (morning) 77, [79 (evening)
Esther 4:1-17 or Judith 7:1-7, 19-32
Luke (1:1-4); 3:1-14
At last night's class about Jesus in the "Embracing an Adult Faith" series, one of the participants on the DVD said this: "As we deepen our personal transformation and lower our defenses, this allows us to love more. Then the desire for justice and the desire to be involved deepens to a greater level. From the other side, I would think that being involved in social justice issues would open our hearts so that we would want to develop the personal transformation. I would think that it would transform us as human beings. It feels like the potential is circular."
In the wilderness, John the Baptist calls for personal transformation. "Prepare the way of the Lord... Bear fruits worthy of repentance." What shall we do? the people ask. John's answers are very practical and ethical. They all have an economic theme: If you have extra coats or food, share them. Tax collectors, take no more than the legal amount. (This would radically affect their income.) Soldiers, don't extort money, and be satisfied with your wages. (Which could be a hardship when wages are delayed.)
Luke sets the context for John's preaching in the political realities of the day. The Emperor is Tiberius; Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea, while Herod Antipas, Philip and Lysanias rule other regions.
John is appealing to people for personal transformation. His symbol is baptism. He asks them to make a change of identity, and tells them to embrace a deeply personal hope for God's coming. Make the paths straight.
But when he talks about how to accomplish this personal transformation, he speaks of social justice and economic issues. He tells them to embrace forms of economic justice that are appropriate to their station. For a peasant with two cloaks and some leftover food, share with your neighbor who has less. For a wealthy tax collector, give up your opportunity for great gain. For a powerful soldier, do not use your power for personal gain, and live within the modest means of a soldier's wages. These would have been seen to be radical reforms.
If the listeners allowed personal transformation to happen -- if they lowered their defenses in order to love more -- then maybe this desire for justice as articulated by John deepened. If these peasants, tax collectors and soldiers changed their behaviors, being involved in social justice issues, it is likely that their actions contributed to their transformation as human beings. The inner journey and our outer actions have a circular energy.
Often you can start from anywhere on a circle. Some people find that their involvement in moral or social activity draws them into a deeper personal transformation. Others find their inner change leads them to action.
Benedictine spirituality has always stressed the relationship between prayer and action. Ora et labora -- Pray and work. You can also turn that around. Work and pray.
As Luke sets the opening of the Gospel within the political realities of the day, we also must pray and work within our own political realities. How can those of us who have enough share with those who do not? Our primary means is through taxation. Progressive taxation allows those of us who are wealthy to contribute to the security and health of those who are not. Yet John reminds the tax collectors to take no more than is necessary and legal. And the power of the state, symbolized in the soldier, should not be primarily exercised for power's sake, and certainly not for the increased wealth and power of those already wealthy and powerful.
If we are to live in a state that follows the teachings of John and the other great Hebrew prophets, we must embrace their values of justice, which demands that there be food and shelter and work for all. The prophets always looked to the wealthy and powerful with
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"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
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Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church