Layperson Lecture #2: Discerning Right

To quote Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 1, “There is a time for every purpose under heaven.” So now it’s time for a Layperson Lecture! I’m Constance McEntee, seminary drop-out and the Idiot Before G0D.

Today’s scripture selections come from LectionaryPage.net.

DEUTERONOMY 30:15-20

Moses seems to be telling the Hebrews to follow the law in order to be rewarded.

SIRACH 15:15-20 (Apocrypha)

This selection seems to be a reiteration of Deuteronomy 30:15-20 but a bit more stern.

PSALM 119:1-18

Seems to say there is happiness in doing what is right.

1 CORINTHTIANS 3:1-9

This seems almost the opposite of last week’s reading from 1 Corinthians 2:1-16. There, St. Paul seemed to be suggesting Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) was perfectly acceptable. Here, in verses 1-4, he seems to be doing what many modern preachers do: tell their congregations what they think the people can, or want, to understand. It’s almost like saying, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

But then in verses 5-9, Paul seems to suggest UPG is valid, because the experiences we have are inspired by faith.

MATTHEW 5:21-37

Last week, Jesus said all of the Law is to be obeyed. This week, he seems to say that’s not merely enough. But I can’t help but think the ripping out one’s own eye is probably not meant to be taken literally. Still, he’s on to something. Folks might say it’s just reflex or instinct to look at persons we find beautiful, even sexually attractive. Perhaps this is true. Jesus’ words here suggest we are to use our minds to consciously overcome our desires.

The one about divorce is tricky for me, being a person who’s been through divorces for various reasons. The first time, my partner requested it, the second time I initiated the process. During my first divorce, as I asked a pastor about this very selection, when Jesus seems to say divorce is forbidden. Her response was that it was meant to protect women in the ancient world. Divorced women in Jesus’ time would find survival very difficult. With modern American society being so different from that of the Biblical world, the injunction against divorce was no longer needed to protect women.

I think this is a vital detail. The Bible is comprised of many sacred texts written for a different culture in a different point in history in a different part of the world. I’m not saying the words of Jesus are no longer important. What I’m saying is they need to be adjusted so they make sense in our times and cultures. So, this part about divorce could be reworded to something like, “Do not harm those in relationship with you. And if you must end the relationship, do so while causing the least amount of harm.”

CONCLUSION

I disagree with Moses and Sirach: I don’t think we should do right so that we might be rewarded. I think the Psalmist had a better insight: that doing right for the sake of doing right is its own reward. St. Paul? Well, he and I have a rocky relationship. But again, he seems to be validating the idea that we can divine for ourselves some of the greater mysteries and what is right. This is how we in modern times can seem to do things like going against the Word of Christ with things like divorce. Context is of paramount importance. These scriptures can be used as a starting point, but we must remember that they were written by and for a very different culture at a very different point in history.

BENEDICTION

So friends, go forward and do what is right and be confident in your own abilities to hear that still, small voice. Be well and be blessed by the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love Overflowing. Amen, and go with G0D.


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