Daily Devotion for October 11, 2021
This mosaic decorates the domed ceiling of “St. Paul’s Within the Walls” Episcopal Church, Rome.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
This catchy calypso song, based on Psalm 137 (see today’s Scripture), was a popular hit around 1980. It compares Hebrew slavery in Babylonia to black slavery in the West Indies.
For Joy in God’s Creation
O Heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty; Open my eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that rejoicing in your whole creation, I may learn to serve you with gladness, faithfully managing your bounty; for the sake of him by whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prayer to Look Beyond Appearances
Heavenly Father, I confess that in my life, I have been more attentive to someone who was beautiful and ignored another who was not. I have judged people by the way they look, by how old they are, by how they are dressed; and yet I know, in my heart, that all souls are beautiful to you and that you have commanded us to love one another, not through the sinful eye of our body and our emotions, but through the perfect eye of your Spirit.
Help me, I pray, to see other people as you see them, as my fellow souls struggling to find you. Let me not be deceived by appearance; let me not be misled by my prejudice. Let me not compare the outside of other people to the inside of myself, nor believe that the circumstances of my birth define a standard that others are supposed to meet. Let me see my own imperfection and not that of my fellow man. This I pray,
“Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.”
~ Jonathan Edwards (from Resolutions)
God of love, Father of all, the darkness that covered the earth has given way to the bright dawn of your Word made flesh. Make me and all who confess your holy name people of this light. Make me faithful to your Word that I may bring your life to the waiting world. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Think of the day ahead in terms of God with you, and visualize health, strength, guidance, purity, calm confidence, and victory as the gifts of His presence.
Psalm 137:1-4 (KJV)
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows
in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive
required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?
Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)
Sermon on the Mount - Fulfillment of the Law
o not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Notes on the Scripture
The general reaction to today’s Scripture, simply stated, is that it bounces off the reader’s mind. Some Christian sects, beginning shortly after Christ’s death and continuing today, ignore it completely. With apologies for using a ten-dollar word, the general term for ignoring this passage is “antinomianism.”
Almost everyone agrees that Christ’s message was one of “justification by faith,” as opposed to “justification by works.” We are not saved by our actions. We are saved by our faith, because if we have faith in Christ, our sins will be forgiven. It is the only way to get to heaven.
Spinning this out, we discover that no matter how grievous our sin, the power of Christ can erase it. It is then only a short logical step to antinomianism: We can commit any sin we want, because we will be saved by our faith.
Christ, however, did not abolish the law. He says so, right here, in black and white. That is fine with most Christians, but what comes next is downright scary: “not one iota, not one dot.” We have had some problems with idiomatic expressions, but this one is the same today as it was then, because we still dot the letter “i”, and this means, not one dot on an “i” has been changed. If that is not clear, Christ tells us that we must not relax the “least of these commandments.” Our starting point, in learning the lessons that Christ teaches, is that the law of Moses applies to us, down to the tiniest detail.
To fulfill means to complete. We fulfill a contract with a car dealer, for instance, by making the final payment on our loan. Contrast this with, say, the government passing a law that debts to car dealers are null and void, and you get the meaning of the difference between abolishing the law and fulfilling it. Christ’s intention is to make us fully obedient to the law, even if he has to make some of the payments himself.
Any Christian will read the final paragraph with some sense of irony, for we know that trying to attain righteousness by compliance with the law is futile. Christ is not going to tell us, in the end, that we will find salvation by trying harder. But let us not lose the main point of today’s Bible verses.
Jesus Christ did not abolish the Old Testament or the moral law it contains. The Old Testament, and more materially the precepts of Moses and the later prophets, are the Word of God. That is our starting point. Where we do not follow a particular law to the letter, then, we must have a specific reason. The Christian tendency to regard the Old Testament as abolished wholesale, purely historical, not relevant to us, is a wide door for us to rationalize conduct contrary to Christ’s intention, when we find obedience inconvenient.