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Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
This is the Epistle reading selection that will be read aloud on the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 14], Year B, according to the lectionary of the Episcopal Church. It will be preceded by one of the two sets of optional readings, which are a Track 1 or a Track 2 Old Testament and Psalm pairing. Track one places focus on the death of David’s son Absalom, while Track two places focus on the prophet Elijah going to sleep under a broom tree. The two songs offer supporting prayers of lament and praise. All will accompany a reading from John’s Gospel, where Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
I wrote about this reading selection and published my thoughts in 2018, the last time it came up in the reading cycle. That commentary can be viewed by clicking this link. Because the Epistles are all so much deeper than the surface translations make appear, I broke this reading down minutely, by segments of words, where I delved into the Greek text. This is how all the Epistles should be read; and, it is why they appear so confusing when they are read aloud (without pause for reflection). The confusion is why so little is preached correctly about the Epistles; but the truth contained in the Epistles explains the true meaning of Christianity, which is meaning that has been lost from modern grasps. I welcomes all read what I offered in 2018, as it is still valid today. However, at this time I will veer away from such depth of analysis and offer new insights that have come to me.
When this reading is taken alone, without any context, it speaks the truth as Paul saying becoming a Christian means a transformation occurs within oneself. Paul tells that these changes will make one cease lying to others, to cease uncontrollable anger that acts against others, to cease stealing, and to cease gossip and slander towards others. The confusion of this reading comes from pulling in the first verse of the following chapter, which implies all this transformation can come from pretending to be Christian. It makes a lovey-dovey ‘kumbaya’ touchy-feely magic be seen as the way to make oneself change. That is wrong.
When the context of this Epistle is seen as a thread that connects this insight to the insight coming from Absalom being caught in the branch of an oak tree, his death soon to come, with Elijah also found dying under a tree of a different kind, while Jesus confronts Jewish pilgrims who struggle with how a man can be the bread of heaven, the two chapters combined into one reading needs to be seen as together in support of one another. This aspect is hard to see, when there is no line that marks the woulda-coulda of chapter four and the peace that comes in chapter five. The transition from one chapter to the next must be seen as the transformation for life to death and from death to resurrection. One cannot pretend – cannot imitate – death and resurrection.
When one sees the death of Absalom as reflecting the death all human being are bound to face, Absalom reflects a human’s natural drive to lie, cheat, steal, and use violent force against others, in order to get one’s way. That lifestyle always gets one’s soul hung up in the tangle of the evil that human lives weave. When one is caught hanging by the head “between heaven and earth,” then the time to confess one’s sins and beg God for forgiveness is long past. One can expect Yahweh to send someone like Joab to pierce one’s heart with an altar spear, leaving the carcass to be destroyed by children taught the same disrespect for human life one’s soul promoted by one’s actions in the flesh.
When one sees how Elisha did not go to sleep, but in fact did die, sacrificing his life to Yahweh – ala Jesus – he shows how self-sacrifice is the way to resurrection. The first touch by the angel of Yahweh removed his soul from his flesh, which was the death of self-sacrifice that was as peaceful as sleep. The second touch by the angel of Yahweh returned the soul to the flesh as the resurrection of Christ. This is the transition from Paul’s fourth chapter to his fifth. Elijah was not an “imitator of God,” but an elohim of Yahweh that was His Son reborn, from a death symbolizing the marriage of his soul to Yahweh’s Spirit – a union of love.
When the Gospel reading from John shows a confrontation between Jesus and the pilgrims, who include those who knew Jesus as the son of Joseph in Nazareth, this parallels the approach of Absalom by Joab and his armor bearers. The children were raised to attack foes, so as adults they have learned all the ‘tricks of the trade,’ which is lying, stealing, and violent force. When Jesus said he was the “bread of heaven,” that was the bread cooked on hot coals that was beside Elijah’s head, which fed him in the transition from death to resurrection. The first loaf was to become the changed person Paul wrote of. The second loaf was to transition to eternal being risen without the limits of a body of flesh.
As a reading selection set aside for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s own personal ministry for Yahweh should already be well underway, the lesson Paul sent is to sacrifice self-ego for the Will of the Father. One must not try to deal with the world alone, or one will find oneself all tangled up in the messes one has made, unable to wrestle one’s soul free to repent in time to change. A soul must submit to Yahweh so it’s body of flesh can make the necessary changes WITH GOD’S HELP. If it were a simple matter of changing from liar to truth-teller, from thief to honest person, from angry striker to loving embracers, then there would be no real need for religion on earth. The problem is (of course) this is an unobtainable goal by human beings. The world is like the forest of Ephraim, a thicket awaiting one’s ego to find.
When Paul wrote, “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” that change of chapters says one has serve Yahweh as a priest or prophet and done all Yahweh demanded of His bridesmaid – His fiancée awaiting marriage. The transition from one chapter to another is the transition of death, when one ceases being a self of importance and one begins acting as Jesus reborn in the flesh. Pretending to be a good person can only work for so long. For that reason, one must die of self and be reborn as Jesus, also a Christ, also a Son of man [human gender irrelevant].