Tuesday, May 24, 2016

PENTECOST II (Proper 4) 2016

Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem - Tissot James
Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem - James Tissot
We are now in that long period following Pentecost that Anglicans used to call ‘Trinity’, but which the modern Christian calendar refers to as ‘Ordinary Time’. The first period of Ordinary Time runs from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. This second period begins with Trinity Sunday and ends with Christ the King (which will fall on November 20th this year). In “Ordinary Time”, the Revised Common Lectionary offers a choice between two ‘tracks’. These two tracks are not so very different, because the Epistle and Gospel are always the same. It is only the Old Testament lesson and Psalm that differ, and it is a few weeks into Ordinary Time before the Old Testament readings diverge significantly.

The ‘continuous’ track takes congregations through some of the great Old Testament narratives over several Sundays. The ‘thematic’ track, on the other hand, aims to connect the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel in such a way that the first can be seen to foreshadow the second. This foreshadowing is easier to spot on some Sundays than on others, but in the readings for this Sunday the connection is not so hard to see.
At vast expense and with great labor over many years, Solomon has completed the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews now possess a truly fitting place in which to worship the Most High God, a spectacular testament to the superiority of their religion. Yet, standing before the altar, Solomon explicitly prays that the Temple may be a place of prayer for non-Jews also. ‘When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes and prays toward this house, then', he asks God, 'hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name’.

Jesus healing the servant of a Centurion - Veronese Paolo
Jesus Heals the Centurion's Servant -Paolo Veronese
It is not hard to hear the resonance with the Gospel. The centurion whose slave is very ill is a generous friend to the Jews, but he is himself a foreigner, beyond their ethnic circle. Seeking to repay him for his generosity, the Jewish elders ask Jesus to effect a cure. This is certainly a kind gesture, but, in words that Christian liturgies have used for centuries, the centurion expresses his hesitation in accepting such help. ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof’ he says. For Jesus, though, the humble faith that this sentence expresses transcends all ethnic divisions. The centurion’s faith is the kind that really counts; ‘not even in Israel have I found such faith’, he declares. The moral is this: what the Book of Common Prayer calls ‘true religion’ is sometimes to be found far beyond the circles in which we normally expect to find it.

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