Love is the fulfilling of the Law.
The 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18A)
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
We have skipped from chapter 3 to chapter 12 of Exodus, “passing over”
Moses’ return to Egypt and his struggle to get Pharaoh “to ley my people go.”
Nine plagues have been sent upon the Egyptians, but Pharaoh’s heart has
remained hard. Finally, in chapter 11,
the Lord declares the tenth plague: the
death of all the first-born of the land.
The Israelites will be “passed over” in this plague if they do the
following, which also serves to establish Passover as a yearly remembrance. This is not an easy story, for the dead of
Egypt in this night would be catastrophic.
Yet this is fundamentally a story of liberation from oppression, a story
at the very heart of the purposes of God.
12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
The Book of Psalms ends with six psalms of praise (145-150). Among these, Psalm 149 begins in the typical way, but takes a different turn in verse 6, when Israel is called to battle. The victory of God is replaced by the military capability of Israel, such that in the final verse, the glory is not for God, but for the people. This line of thought was not necessarily unusual—the glory of God was frequently believed to be at one with the victories of Israel over her enemies. This belief raises many questions about the ultimate purposes of God.
Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3 Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people *
and adorns the poor with victory.
5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
let them be joyful on their beds.
6 Let the praises of God be in their throat *
and a two-edged sword in their hand;
7 To wreak vengeance on the nations *
and punishment on the peoples.
8 To bind their kings in chains *
and their nobles in links of iron;
9 To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
this is glory for all his faithful people.
The prophet Ezekiel was among the first group of exiles taken to Babylon, in 597 b.c.e. The book is full of puzzling and strange visions. This brief passage is part of a reiteration of Ezekiel’s call to prophesy. It makes use of the image of a sentinel, which had been used in Ezekiel’s original call (3:16-21). He is responsible for those given into his care. He is to prophesy what sounds like doom, but in actuality is a message of life. God desires life for his people, not death.
33:7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life. 10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Psalm 119:33-40 (Track 2)
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 verses. It is a long meditation on the law, written as an acrostic poem. Each of the verses of every eight-verse section begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, our eight verses today in Hebrew each begin with the letter “He.” It is also written so that every verse includes some synonym of the word “law.”
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.
35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.
36 Incline my hear to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.
39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.
Near the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul writes a series of exhortations for the life of the believer. In the following section he speaks of love as the highest fulfillment of the law, echoing his well-known chapter on love in First Corinthians 13. He gives the practice of love an urgency by tying it to what he felt was the imminent return of Christ. Yet his message holds up even without that return: “live honorably, as in the day.” “The flesh” for Paul is a metaphor for what The Book of Common Prayer asks us to renounce at our baptism: “all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God” (p. 302).
13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
This process for seeking truth, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Christian community is unique to Matthew. Of the gospel writers, only Matthew uses the word “church,” although the actual Greek word is ekklesia, which simply means “an assembly of people.” Nevertheless, Matthew’s community is clearly advanced in its way of working through the inevitable difficulties of community. The statement about “binding and losing” appears twice in Matthew (see 16:19). The terms used are legal ones meaning “to forbid” or “to permit.” The community is capable of making such judgments. The last verse is the most well-known of the passage. Again, it is unique to Matthew and clearly testifies to his community’s experience of life together.