XXII Pentecost, Year A
The LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, `When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’" Joshua then said to the Israelites, "Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your God." Joshua said, "By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap."
When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.
Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets
who lead my people astray,
who cry "Peace"
when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
who put nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
and darkness to you, without revelation.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the spirit of the LORD,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin.
Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
and pervert all equity,
who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with wrong!
Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the LORD and say,
"Surely the LORD is with us!
No harm shall come upon us."
Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father– the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."
The Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission.
Any time we get to a text like this in the lectionary, we have suggested that it is crucial not to come out railing against the Jews in general or against Judaism as a religion. We reiterate that point today.
First, we must note that for both Jesus and Matthew, these admonitions are addressed to Jewish followers of Jesus, these are not general requirements for Gentile believers. In one real sense, these verses have little to no applicability for Christians today; they have been hermeneutically neutered by their ethnic boundaries. Gentile believers could not possibly be expected to have to follow the Pharisaic interpretation of Torah.
In order for us to draw meaning for the church from these texts, we need to look at them structurally. We read the texts in terms of the relationships that Jesus teaches between believer and authority, believer and text as text.
In this instance, we are to respect and imitate the desire for scriptural renewal espoused by the authorities (in this case, Pharisees), but we are not to do it in the way that they do it. That is, we are to hold the authority of Scripture in the highest esteem but we are not to practice the hermeneutic of those who tout biblical authority within a framework of holiness. It is this holiness hermeneutic that separates Jesus from the Pharisees, separates us from authorities who read according to a similar hermeneutic.
Our readers will not have difficulty making the leap into twenty first century American religious life. First, Jesus suggests that we listen to those who call us to biblical renewal. “Listen to what they say.” What they say is that everything we need to escape the collapse of culture that surrounds us can be found in Scripture. They call much of the church, deeply imbued with the skepticism of modernity, to rediscover the wonder and joy of biblical authority. But then Jesus admonishes the disciples not become engaged mimetically with the religious authorities, they are not to be imitated (‘Do not do what they do’). This is because their imitation is a hermeneutic grounded in the holiness code that excludes and victimizes.
So also, we are to avoid doing what (the vast majority of) those calling for biblical renewal do as readers, that is, read it within a context of holiness that differentiates, that excludes, that re-instates the victimage mechanism in another guise as the center of our life as believers.
So also, there is to be no mimetic hierarchy in the congregation, no one who is to be held above the other, all are of equal value in Matthew’s view of the Church. Matthew’s community in this regard is no different than the Pauline communities. These “vertical” hierarchies, which not only recognize different gifts (an unavoidable truth) but recognize them differently, are utterly rejected by Matthew, by Jesus, and by Paul.
This rejection of negative mimesis, mimesis which arises from model/obstacles and culminates in rivalry, is a key component in Matthew’s ecclesiology and one which the churches would benefit from adopting.
It may very well be that we are dealing in this chapter with almost purely Matthean formulations. This does not mean however, that they are incongruent with Jesus’ conception of the community of the age to come, in fact, we would suggest that it was Jesus’ egalitarianism that inspired such reflections as these.
Social science exegesis (e.g., Overman, Saldarini) has demonstrated the importance of hierarchical authorities for both emerging Judaism post 70 C.E. and the Matthean community, but the Matthean community appears to have grounded its understanding of community relations in terms of forgiveness (Matt 18) and the love command (Matt 22). These ‘identity markers’ would have been significant differences between the Matthean Christian Jewish community and emerging communities founded after Yavneh under the influence of Rabbi Johan b. Zakkai.
From time to time, certain movements within the church call the larger Christian community to repentance. Most of the times these movements are oriented to a holiness code. It behooves the church to hear this call to repentance but not to repent of the ‘sins’ of which it is accused. Today, e.g., there are those who rail against the larger Christian community for accepting the gay and lesbian community into ecclesial fellowship. They call on the church to repent. The larger church should hear this call to repentance but it should not repent of its inclusiveness. Instead, the church can and might repent of its mimetic entanglements with those who castigate and fulminate against them. Much of the discussion around the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons has circled around language of “rights,” and has been mimetically (that is, legislatively) forced upon those who have not yet been loved into a new understanding of the biblical text. Instead of continuing to divide ourselves into left and right, we might begin to ask just how it is that we have failed to love one another, to appropriate a hermeneutic of love and to continue to extrude, villanize and hurt each other.
Sermon thoughts: As a preacher, I find myself laughing as I stand in front of the congregation (or, lately, in the midst, in the aisle) all dressed in different clothes. It isn’t that it’s wrong to wear something that makes it easy to figure out who the preacher is (that’s a purely functional, not hierarchical phenomenon) but that almost everything I have on is viewed by my congregation as something that elevates me in some way.
I wear a collar, one of the Anglican ones that goes all the way around. Some of us jokingly call it a “dog collar” but that’s less a joke to me nowadays than it used to be. Now, at last, it symbolizes for me my servitude. It’s a slave’s collar.
But I used to want to take it off all the time, because I bought into the generally held idea that the collar put me one step higher on the hierarchy (pun intended) and I knew in some way that this was a mistake.
So, as a preacher, I’m going to make fun of myself. I want to deconstruct the notion of authority as it functions in an hierarchical church, and humor is the gentlest way to do that for me. I may do an ecclesiological “strip” show or have some fun re-defining each of the things I have on for the congregation.
By the end, I hope that I’ll have encouraged a few more of them that calling me “Father Krantz” is not only unnecessary, but unrelated to reality.