Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Thoughts after the Third Sunday in Lent

There are certain advantages to keeping a blog that no one (except the occasional spammer) comments on. One advantage is that I don't know whether or not anyone reads what I write.

This past Sunday at St. Mary's the preacher was Chris Ferguson. I alwats enjoy Chris's sermons -- he preaches from the text and has his eye on the truly radical meaning of the gospel. This week the gospel was Luke 13:1-9. Chris focused on the first half, verses 1-5. Twice Jesus says: "Unless you repent, you will perish just as they did."

Chris quoted The Future by Leonard Cohen: "When they said Repent, Repent I wonder what they meant." I'm not sure what Leonard Cohen has to do with it, or what his conclusion about repentance is, but is is clear that to Chris Ferguson, and to most of those in the congregation at St. Mary's on Sunday, repentance has nothing to do with being sorry for and turning away from personal sins.

Pilate had caused some Galileans to be slain while they sacrificed in the Temple, so that their blood mingled with that of the animals being sacrificed. Jesus clearly says that this didn't happen to them as a punishment for their sins. They were no more sinful than any other Galileans. The tower of Siloam in Jerusalem had collapsed, killing eighteen people. Jesus clearly says they were not worse sinners (he actually said "debtors") than any one else in Jerusalem. The clear message is that the bad things that happen to people are not a punishment from God.

Before I go further, a word about the "debtors" in verse 4. In the Greek and in the Vulgate the word is clearly "debtors." In the 14th century John Wycliffe translated it directly from the Latin as "debtors." By the 1th century, William Tyndale translated the word as "sinners." Chris Ferguson told us that being in debt was considered in New Testament times as a punishment for sins, so that a debtor was necessarily a sinner. I'm not enough of a scholar to comment on that. Also, I do not know whether the Tyndale bible or the Great Bible or the Geneva Bible which were based on it included any marginal alternative translations. The 1611 King James bible, however, does include in the margin the word "debtors" as an alternative to the word "sinners" in the main text. (It is a pity that few are aware that the original King James bible even had marginal variants.) It is beyond my purpose in this post to pursue further the matter except to say (following a lead of Chris Ferguson's) that it seems to me to be part of a consistent tendency to spiritualize economic references in scripture.

According to Chris, in this passage we are called on to repent the way of the world -- which is to accept as normal social structures which are built on injustice, inequality and exploitation. If we do not repent, we will perish. Of course, (and Chris did not say this,) if we do repent we may well perish anyway, because just as bad things are not God's punishment for sin, God does not reward us for doing the right thing by protecting us from bad things.


In article at The Lead at Episcopal Cafe, Ann Fontaine asks "Did you know Justice Breyer's daughter is an Episcopal priest?" Well, yes, I did and do know that. In fact, I know the Rev. Chloe Breyer -- she is an associate at St. Mary's and celebrated the Eucharist this past Sunday.

Enough for now.