Of course, I must bring forth my graduate school paper on Psalm 104 whenever it’s in the lectionary. I’ll also make my standard complaint. I’ll never be happy with parts of a Psalm. Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c? That’s tearing apart a highly structured and beautiful piece of poetry. Take the time to read the whole thing!
We often read the Psalms legalistically, i.e. all the discussion of the law leads us to believe we’re talking about some sort of righteousness by works, or better earning God’s favor through accomplishing certain works.
If we read Psalm 1 as a sort of flat discourse rather than as structured poetry, we can easily read it in support of such a mission. After all, righteous people who do certain things are blessed, and wicked people who do certain other things are not.
But Psalm 1 is, in fact, structured poetry, and it does not intend to make a catalog of good actions that one should do in order to be regarded as righteous. Rather, it contrasts two ways of life. The first is the way of life of the righteous person, and the other the way of life of the wicked, characterized by a lack of what the righteous person has. That particular element is torah or instruction?God’s instruction. The work of God’s Torah in the life of the righteous is not complete. He meditates in that instruction day and night. The Torah forms these righteous people into a community united in following that particular way.
This contrast is emphasized by the use of ki’ ‘im in Hebrew, which occurs only here in the Psalter (Bob MacDonald, Seeing the Psalter, forthcoming from my company Energion Publications, 2013).
In contrast, without that Torah, the wicked are like chaff and are blown away by the wind. They lack that community and therefore they lack its blessings.
This is not about admission requirements. This is about the choice of the way. It evokes Deuteronomy 30:15ff. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity …” This comes not from a sermon preached to the already righteous, but rather from an invitation to people who had need of that Torah. It was an act of God’s grace.
In the same way this invitation to contrasting ways of life comes to each one of us.
There are times when I understand why we select verses to read in the Lectionary, and there are times when I don’t. In this case, I don’t. We have James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a. I don’t see adequate reason not to read 3:13 – 4:10 as a whole, and if I were to preach/teach on this passage I would definitely include the other texts. I do appreciate the inclusion of the buildup (3:13-18) which tells us the importance of 4:1-10.
This isn’t too long to read as a whole. Verses 4-6 provide additional understanding as to why these conflicts take place and what to do about them. Version 8b-10 tell us something about how to get away from the problem.
This passage has created quite a few problems over the years. There are women who feel really oppressed by it. Others feel this truly describes the perfect woman and try to get women (and girls) to live up to it. I encountered these various attitudes in a discussion group yesterday.
My strong suggestion is to read this more as satire. The author is pointing out how much of the actual work that goes on is taken care of by the women, especially the wives of the powerful, while the men hang out at the city gate, which was where the politics goes on. Then, as now, a person of means was in a much better position to work the political circuit because you needed to be there when things happened. The husband of the woman described here was in a good position to be politically powerful. He looked terribly wise, but who was actually doing the work?
One of my pastors, Geoffrey Lentz, suggested that this passage is intended to tie in with lady wisdom introduced early in the book. (He didn’t claim this as original, but he’s my footnote!) Thus the “woman of power” is, in some sense, God. I tend to agree with him on this, though only as the intention of the redactor, and as a canonical read of the text.
By the nature of Proverbs, as well as the indications in the text itself, this is a separate piece of the collection. In other words, we have no context for the words as they were originally presented. They might well have been an independent poem. In fact, I would suspect they were. But why include them in Proverbs, and specifically as the last portion? I think that positioning tends to support the idea that this is Lady Wisdom in some sense.
However you do it, make sure not to make this passage a club to beat other people with. Women have enough expectations placed on them.
I do recall my mother bringing this up at our wedding. We had arranged for a multigenerational blessing. My mother would say a few words, then our children would do so. I know Jody got tense when my mother read a portion of this passage. But then she turned it around. Her point was that a man needs to earn the Proverbs 31 woman. What sort of a man can deserve this woman? Good question, I think!
Bruce Epperly has an excellent set of comments on the texts for Advent 1B at Process and Faith. In particular take a look at the discussion of our perception that God has abandoned us in the comments on Isaiah 64.
But are we abandoned, and what would it mean?
Perhaps, as later Jewish mysticism suggests, God must withdraw for creation to burst forth in creativity and freedom.
Read the rest . . .
I’m looking at the readings for Proper 25A, and again I notice a large chunk of the Psalm removed from the reading, Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17, so 7-12 is left out.
Now sometimes I see good reason for taking part of a Psalm, because one does need to keep the readings reasonable in length. As it is, many congregations only use a few lines from the Psalm.
But in this case, one could divide the Psalm into three sections, with the first being 1-6, expressing the greatness of God, the second 7-12 talking about living under God’s judgment or anger, and 13-17 being a prayer for God’s favor. Now if you leave out the center part of the Psalm, one misses the sense of the prayer.
In this case I suspect a desire of certain liturgists to avoid reading the really unpleasant verses, such as speaking of God putting our sins directly in front of him. Not comfortable reading, that!
In any case, I think this Psalm, as most Psalms, should be studied more as a whole, rather than chopped up. As worshipers, we should be more patient with hearing the reading of the Word.
Will Humes, a Methodist pastor in Pennsylvania, is proposing a four year lectionary. Two major benefits he sees for this lectionary is that it would give the gospel of John a bigger place in the lectionary, and also inclusion of more wisdom literature. I have already briefly commented on this. What I’m planning to do here is compare the two lectionaries for the next few weeks to see what preaching/teaching from them might be like.
I am not currently preaching anywhere, but I do use the lectionary in my devotional study and frequently use it in teaching. When I am invited to preach I normally preach from the lectionary texts. Because of the extra year I’m going to compare three sets of texts: 1) The RCL texts for the coming week, 2) The texts from the same year/gospel from the proposed four year lectionary, and 3) the texts we would use if this was the year for the gospel of John.
For this coming Sunday, August 21, that would be Proper 16A, Week 16A to match, and 16D for John.
Here are the texts:
|Old Testament||Exodus 1:10-2:8 or
|Genesis 38:1-26 or
|Genesis 8:1-13 or
Acts 26:1, 9-23, 27-29, 31-32
|Psalm||Psalm 124 or
|Psalm 18:31-36, 43-50||Psalm 132:1-5, 11-18|
|Epistle||Romans 12:1-8||1 Corinthians 6:12-20||Revelation 3:14-22|
|Gospel||Matthew 16:13-20||Matthew 12:1-21||John 8:31-47|
If we were in Year A of the four year series we would have our choice between the rather risque story in Genesis 38 (Judah and Tamar) and the lofty language of Isaiah 40. In the epistle, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 has a remarkably similar (though of course not identical) message to Romans 12:1-8. Obviously that’s not the issue, but I found it interesting! The gospel contains a collection.
If we were in Year D, we’d have the story of the exit from the ark after the flood, material on the Davidic covenant and God’s faithfulness from Psalm 132, the letter to the church in Laodicea, and a passage from John about whose children Jesus’ opponents really are.
I find it about equally difficult to create a good overarching theme for these passages and for those in the RCL. Sometimes there’s an intentional theme, and sometimes there’s not, but that’s nothing new.
I like the inclusion of passages that are not part of the normal lectionary readings. I wonder how many churches would actually read Genesis 38. I can’t recall anyone actually preaching from it!
In any case, I enjoyed the comparison. I hope to write a bit more on these passages as the week goes on, but it’s a busy week, and I may not get around to it. I will certainly compare a few more weeks of passages to help you get a flavor for this idea.