Proper 15 Sunday 16th August 2020 Year A Commentary on each of the readings:
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
When one usually reads the Old Testament, one tends to hear about how God’s chosen people are to be increased in number and how they are to extend their influence by conquest, battle and breeding. You also quite often hear about all the good things that God will do and has done and has planned for his chosen people – that very select bunch known to us as the Hebrews.
These few verses from Isaiah, however, seem to counteract all that I have just said for they suggest that God is a lot more inclusive than other writers in the Old Testament suggest. The Old Testament tends to be full of the stories of how the Hebrews became God’s chosen people – his delight above all other peoples. Sometimes you might even wonder if God actually created the other races just to be able to show his favouritism towards the Hebrews.
Isaiah, however, (and this is tertiary Isaiah, that is the third author writing under that name) tells us quite strongly that God is not impartial at all and that anyone is acceptable in his sight if they chose to keep his ways and follow his laws:
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:6-7a
To read this is almost mind-blowing for it sets the scene for Christ’s ministry and shows us that we human beings have always had the opportunity to be one of God’s most beloved people simply by following his ways. I wonder though, if other people were as acceptable to the Hebrews as they appear to have been by God? In fact I know the answer to that question and it is no, the Hebrews could not even accept each other and it led to three distinct Jewish groups developing who tolerated each other but did not accept each other. All too often we human beings can be too exclusive and not follow the ways of God or try to ape his inclusive nature. We humans are selective NOT God. For God says:
“8 Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” Isaiah 56:8
Until reading this piece of Scripture for today’s commentary I had never been cognisant of Isaiah’s particular take on God’s nature. This piece now amazes me and excites me for it tells me that God has always been accepting and loving of all his Creation, should they follow his ways – always since the time of creation and not just after the birth of Christ. It does however; make Christ’s birth for me all the more important as it shows me how far we humans had strayed from God’s ways that he needed to send his son to redeem us.
Yet, it also offers us hope. Hope that as 21st century people if we continue to turn to God’s ways then we will be accepted by him and loved beyond measure. God’s nature is not to reject, it is to accept but we humans have to decide to seek him out and come to him. He offers us unconditional love we just have to accept it.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
I have to admit that I find the last verse of this Scripture passage from Paul’s epistle to the Romans somewhat disconcerting:
“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” Romans 11:32
Why? Because on the face of it, it seems to say that God plays games with us in order to show how loving he actually is. I really don’t like the idea that God has ‘imprisoned’ us in disobedience in order to show us mercy. It makes God seem like some grand puppet master and us human beings incapable of behaving well by choice – our own choice. I hope that Paul did not mean what we read in translation. In fact I suspect that he didn’t because his opening question and short immediate answer are very powerful and decisive:
“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” Romans 11:1a
That verse is pretty blunt and to the point; God has not rejected his people and if you remember back to what Isaiah said when we use the term ‘his people’ we mean ALL who have turned to God and who try to follow his ways. I do wish that Paul had left it at that, as it makes it very clear that God loves us. As it is though I think he over complicates things and almost negates what he first suggests. If we ignore that last verse of this bit from Paul’s writings we have just read, then I think Paul is actually re-affirming what Isaiah said – that God loves all his creation regardless of who they are.
It is what comes out of our mouths that defiles for if it comes out with malice behind it then it will destroy our souls and hurt those to whom it is directed. How true are these words of Christ?
How often have you, like me, wished that you had not said the things you said but had kept a hold of one’s tongue? We all have times when we do this without thinking, times when our anger, fear or hurt cause us to lash out with our tongues and it is perhaps understandable why we do it. The problem arises when we use our words to destroy and hurt intentionally with as they say ‘malice aforethought’.
Jesus tells us that we are not to live lives driven by malice. To be a Christian is to try and live a life with good intention and without malice. What I mean by this is that we are called by Christ to live lives that seek to do good to and within God’s creation. We are called to be co-creators not destroyers. Matthew says, it is not eating with unwashed hands that defile us it is our own impure and imperfect thoughts and actions that do that.
None of us are perfect and we all struggle to live harmonious lives and that it is in that struggle that we can be assured that God will be with us loving us as we try to live good lives. It is when we choose to live lives of malice that we run into trouble and face God’s wrath, for it is then that we are failing to love our neighbours as ourselves. Malice defiles everyone and everything it touches.
Today’s Gospel reading is a warning to us to be careful; careful in what we do and say. If we do anything with an evil intent, then we will be defiled and thus become unacceptable to God, until we repent of our ways and follow his paths once again.
But remember too the words of Paul and Isaiah; we are unconditionally loved and God will always forgive us when we truly repent for the things that we do that defile his image within us. God says you choose how
you live your lives but not all choices will bring you into my loving embrace.