Re the Daily Office Readings September 9 Anno Domini 2020

Presentation in the Temple by Peter Paul Reubens

The Lessons: Job 29:1; 30:1-2, 16-31; Acts 14:19-28; John 11:1-16

The Book of Job is also an essential complement to the Psalter. There’s a lot of overlap between Job’s complaints and many of the psalms. While the psalms are generally anonymous (the attribution to David serving some of the same functions as the overlap with Job I’m describing), Job’s words, e.g., today’s reading, help us better imagine the human experiences behind the Psalter’s words.

Acts. How to hear the references to the Jews in today’s reading without putting ourselves—and them—in danger? At the end of Simeon’s encounter with the Holy Family in the temple: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too’” (Lk. 2:34-35). Jesus periodically throws us into crisis, so that it’s not enough to have been faithful yesterday.

How to make sense of this? James Russell Lowell’s “The Present Crisis” (excerpted as #519 in the Hymnal of 1940, dropped from the Hymnal of 1982), offers powerful images, but shows little interest in listening sympathetically to one’s opponents. Then there’s this from Dimble in C. S. Lewis’ That hideous strength: “If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family—anything you like—at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder” (Chapter 13, Section 4).

Returning to Acts, the Old Testament reflects a fair amount of ambiguity (Dimble’s “elbow room”) re what God will do with/about the Gentiles. Between Jesus and the Spirit’s work some of that ambiguity disappears, and that forces choices, since Israel’s identity is also involved. “The falling and the rising of many in Israel,” indeed. Nor was this the last time Jesus threw us into crisis (the institution of slavery, the status of women, ecological justice—the list keeps growing because Jesus dreams big).

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