I’m a great believer in the Lectionary – the system of reading the Bible that we use as a church. There are set patterns for the readings at Morning and Evening Prayer, there is a two year pattern for weekday Eucharists, a three year pattern for the Sunday Eucharists and of course, set readings for saints’ days and other festivals. It is all quite complicated really but no worries, you can buy a Lectionary each year in which everything has been carefully worked out for you and then you never have to worry again.
The thing is, you see, that if we were all just able to choose the readings that we wanted to read we may end up missing out huge chunks of scripture that we don’t like, or don’t understand or don’t think are ‘the word of the Lord.’ We would end up reading the Beatitudes every other Sunday and then the other weeks – well, probably the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25).
We were looking for the readings for Evensong this Sunday and this is how the passage from 2 Kings begins
Some time later King Ben-hadad of Aram mustered his entire army; he marched against Samaria and laid siege to it. As the siege continued, famine in Samaria became so great that a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one-fourth of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver. (2 Kings 6.24-25)
Why read that, we asked ourselves? What’s a ‘kab of dove’s dung’ and would anyone want one anyway? But it was chosen as the First Lesson for Evensong and so we read it. At the Eucharist this morning, there was, by contrast, a fantastic passage from St Paul’s letter to the Romans – Romans 12.9-21. Within that passage are these challenging words
No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Both readings for me spoke to the situation in which so many people find themselves today. For those who are going hungry, as in that Old Testament seige, then the price of everything becomes another form of oppression. There was a documentary on BBC iPlayer that I caught this week which talked about the Siege of Derry during the reign of William and Mary. In a contemporary report it gave the price of a rat! The reality had not changed between the days of 2 Kings and Derry in 1689. It has not changed much since.
And how would our brothers and sisters fleeing persecution at the hands of the members of the so called Islamic State deal with the passage from Romans and, indeed, how do we deal with it? Yet, this is the word of the Lord for us and to us. In his own passion Jesus transformed the response of those who were crucifying him. His lack of resistance, his willingness to embrace the cross, converted the Centurion.
Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Mark 15.39)
Of course Paul is right; we can transform evil with good, but the price is everything and it is all well and good for me to sit here and say that that is the only way in which we can counter the evil and the oppression that is so apparent at the moment, but would I be willing to pay the price, myself? I wish I could say yes – I look to Jesus on the cross and I wish I could be confident that I could do it – but …..
We often say in the Sacristy of the Cathedral, ‘We believe in the God of the Lectionary’ and we mean it – because so often, as today, the readings speak into the reality of our lives and not always in easy ways, but in ways that make us think and make us struggle – and that has to be good. And at the end whether the word to us has been welcome or unwelcome, about how blessed we are or how much a quarter of a kab of dove’s dung cost, we say ‘This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.’ and we mean it.
for your word to us today,