From the Lectionaries, by Archdeacon Stringfellow

Scapegoats, Bond Traders, and Big Petroleum Companies
by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Tuesday in Easter 5 (Year Two)
Leviticus 16:20-34
6 May 2010

In the First Lesson at Morning Prayer on May 4 we read: “When he has finished atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgression, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:20-22).

My first encounter with this selection of holy Scripture was not in church or in Sunday School; it was in a Shakespeare class when the play discussed was The Merchant of Venice. The professor’s object in introducing us to the Biblical source for scapegoats was to say that Shakespeare’s intention was to make of Shylock a scapegoat on whose head had been placed “all the iniquities of the people” of Venice before he was banished to compulsory baptism. For many reasons, the professor said, this intended effect did not “work”: “all the iniquities” of the Venetians did not fit or properly belong on his head, and we, probably like the Elizabethans, have a question or two when the subject turns to baptism against one’s will.

Continue reading "From the Lectionaries, by Archdeacon Stringfellow" »

Reflection on the gospel for Last Epiphany C

From the Lectionaries
By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Year C, Last Epiphany
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a)
14 February 2010

The Lectionary (formerly known as the Revised Common Lectionary) calls for the transfiguration Gospel on the Last Sunday after Epiphany from the Synoptic Gospel associated with each of the years in the three-year cycle. Year C has the Lucan version of the Transfiguration; Year A has the Matthean version (Mt 17:1-9); and Year B has the Markan version (Mk 9:2-9).

The question that inevitably arises in my mind is whether or not Jesus’ transfiguration predicts a transfiguration in us as we journey through Lent toward Easter and the resurrection of Jesus? Does the transfiguration of Jesus anticipate what happens to us in Lent, the “season of penitence and fasting” that we observe “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (The Book of Common Prayer, page 265)?

The answer, I think, is yes, but the road of that transfiguration is difficult and can require unusual steadiness along the way. And, looking back, rather than forward, in the liturgical year, we can easily see how the transfiguration of Jesus (a great theophany, perhaps the greatest except for the resurrection) ends the Season of Epiphany, the season of manifestations of Jesus and his identity of prophet, priest, king, healer, and savior.

Continue reading "Reflection on the gospel for Last Epiphany C" »

Reflection on the Lectionaries for Epiphany I, Baptism of Our Lord

From the Lectionaries
Epiphany I: The Baptism of Our Lord
Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22
10 January 2010

The first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) always is The Baptism of Our Lord. The need of Jesus’ baptism has always been for me something of a theological puzzle never quite adequately explained. Why does he need it? Or, rather, why is it part of the Gospels?

Perhaps greater understanding of the matter, if not an answer to this question, lies in looking at the baptism in the four Gospels. The quotations are from the nrsv.

Mark (1:9-11)

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

To the question, “Why is Jesus baptized?,” Mk seems to offer no answer, but Mk includes the baptism, though, without underscoring it or putting it into special relief. Mk gives greater attention to the heavenly proclamation, the theophany (a manifestation of God) that is the heavenly voice directly quoted.

Seemingly absent from Mk is concern either about whether John is greater than Jesus (the precedence question) or about whether Jesus requires the repentance (the repentance question) John’s baptism signifies (1:4). Before verse 9 John proclaims “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me” (1:7), but Jesus receives John’s baptism nonetheless. Mk is silent about Jesus’ need or lack of need for repentance. In fact, the mention of Jesus in verse 9, when he is baptized, is only the second mention of him in the Gospel, the first mention being verse 1: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Continue reading "Reflection on the Lectionaries for Epiphany I, Baptism of Our Lord" »

A reflection on Matthew's Infancy Narrative

From the Lectionaries
A reflection on Matthew's Infancy Narrative
by Archdeacon Stringfellow
Christmas II
Matthew 2:13-15 and 19-23
3 January 2010

Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth and childhood (frequently called an infancy narrative) differs very substantially from Luke’s—the familiar “Christmas” story. Neither Mark nor John contains an infancy narrative.

The Second Sunday after Christmas Day, which we do not have every year, holds its own place in the liturgical calendar identified by the familiar and common name of Holy Family Sunday.

For this day, the first choice of Gospel proclamations is Matthew’s story of three of Joseph’s dreams, the flight to Egypt, the return to Nazareth, and the fulfillment of two prophecies. None of this material is in Luke except that in Luke Nazareth is Mary and Joseph’s own town and the place where Jesus grows up.

Matthew contains the story also of Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus by killing “all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” (2:16). Herod’s murder of the holy innocents, also, is not to be found in Luke’s infancy narrative.

In the Gospel for today, an angel of the Lord warns Joseph in his second dream to take Jesus and his mother to Egypt to avoid Herod’s attempt to destroy Jesus. This Joseph readily and swiftly does, and we read an example, so common in Matthew, of an event followed quickly by the statement that the event fulfills a particular prophecy that Matthew quotes: “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’” (2:15). Here Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1.

While the holy family lives in Egypt, Herod dies, and Joseph has his third dream. This time, the message of the angel is that those who sought to kill Jesus are dead and that Joseph is to take the child and his mother and to go to the land of Israel (2:20). When the holy family arrives there, however, Joseph hears that Herod’s son Archelaus rules there, in Judea, and when he is also warned in his fourth dream, Joseph pushes on to the district of Galilee, and there the holy family makes their home in Nazareth. This event, too, fulfills a specific prophecy: “so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean’” (2:23). It’s not clear what prophecy Matthew refers to here. “Nazareth” is not mentioned in the Old Testament. But what Matthew does, perhaps, is to draw from a mention of a word similar to Nazareth, such as Isaiah 11:1, where we read, “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.” The Hebrew neser is bud or shoot.

It is worth noting that in Matthew’s account of the flight to Egypt and the return to Israel not only does Jesus fulfill rather specific and small prophecies, if you will, but he also fulfills the history of all Israel by recapitulating in his person the whole history of Israel. That history is succinctly and famously stated in Deuteronomy: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.” “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders” (26:5 and 8).

The point that Matthew seems to want to make here and elsewhere is that Jesus is all Israel and the complete Israel, “the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1).

Bridging Ideas and Things – A reflection by Archdeacon Stringfellow on John's Prologue

From the Lectionaries
Bridging Ideas and Things
by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Christmas I –– John 1:1-18
27 December 2009

The Prologue to the Gospel of John is the Gospel for the third eucharist of the Nativity of our Lord (through verse 14) as well as for the first Sunday after Christmas Day. John is unique: it shares not one source with the Synoptic Gospels, those that can be “seen together,” or compared, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John shares no outline of Jesus’ life and ministry with the other Gospels; rather, John presents Jesus Christ as the eternal Logos, the creative principle, (or Word) of the Father whose Incarnation (taking on human flesh) echoes God’s original Creation. All people have the choice to accept or reject him. John thus presents Jesus Christ after mature theological and philosophical reflection. Probably John was the last Gospel written.

Continue reading "Bridging Ideas and Things – A reflection by Archdeacon Stringfellow on John's Prologue" »