Thursday, February 09, 2012

An Exquisite Passage

Thursday, February 9, 2012 -- Week of 5 Epiphany, Year Two

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 947)
Psalms [83] or 146, 47 (morning)        85, 86 (evening)
Genesis 27:30-45
Romans 12:9-21
John 8:21-32

Today's reading from Romans is so exquisite.  It seems to stand on its own, needing little commentary. 

How much more balanced might our lives be if we lived by Paul's advice.  What qualities of community would be built up if we embraced these values.

I'm going to type it -- slowly -- as a form of meditative reading, to let it sink in.  I encourage you to read it again -- slowly, meditatively -- and let it sink into you.

"Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. (or, alternate version:  "serve the opportune time")  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly (or, alternate translation:  "give yourselves to humble tasks"); do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'  No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.'  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."


Two concerns.  When we read Paul's words "hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good," we need to be cautious.  Because of our own negative tendencies, we need to be very careful whenever we flirt with the notion of hating.  We might hate what is evil.  But we are never to hate people.  Too many outrages and too much wrongful violence has been committed by righteous people thinking they were fighting evil.  Vengeance belongs to God alone.

The next to last sentence is a quote from Proverbs 25:21-22 -- "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on their heads." 

First: there is nothing in ancient history that would imply this is a literal practice -- no evidence of heaping coals of fire as a practice for any purpose of justice or revenge.  So, this should be read only as a hyperbole, a metaphor for punishment or for one's acquittal before one's enemies. 

Second: The book of Proverbs articulates a social philosophy that has a checkered history.  At the core of the book of Proverbs are two problematic assumptions:  1. That God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, and 2. That social standing and honor are paramount, and they are a competitive, zero-sum game -- if you win honor and standing, someone else must lose honor and be shamed.  The book of Job was written largely as a challenge to the philosophy of Proverbs.  The example of Jesus stands it sharp contrast to the philosophy of Proverbs. 

So -- Feed your enemies; give them water.  Leave any firecoal-heaping, if there be any, to God.  Again, the corrective is within Paul's passage.  "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, ...never avenge yourselves, ...for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'  ...overcome evil with good."

With those two phrases in context, what an exquisite passage we have today from Paul.

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 -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

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

See our Web site at

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


At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Doug Cummins said...

This is a justification for our Welcoming Immigrant Ministry, as if we needed one. I intend to read it at our meeting on March 17, perhaps as a basis for discsussion and reflection. Thank you for sharing your passion for caring justice.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the comment Doug. It is a good opening for such a ministry of hospitality and justice. Great work.

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Michael Anglican said...

Burning coals have been known to purify. Perhaps in doing good to your "enemies" it makes them think a different way. It could bring them to a point where they are no longer the enemy in their thinking or ours.
Am I clear as mud?


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