July 10, 2011

Monday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, Judges 5:1-18, Lk. 6:39
Evening - Ps. 84, 85, Neh. 5:1-13, Acts 13:44-14:7

Commentary

The Covenant of God includes duties to Him and to other people of the Covenant. We see this easily in the Ten Commandments, for the first four are about our relationship with God and remaining six are about our duties to one another. People are not called into an individual Covenant with God; we are, and always have been, called into the Community of the Covenant. It is within this Covenant Community that we are baptized, instructed in the faith, worship God on the Lord's Day, and celebrate the feast of Holy Communion. In fact, every aspect of our lives, as a man or woman of God, is lived within the context of the community of faith. In the New Testament era this community is called the Church, which refers to both its universal and local manifestations. In the Old Testament that community was called Israel, or, by the time of Nehemiah, Judah. One of the problems with the Jews who remained in Shushan, Babylon, or Egypt, is that they were no longer functioning within the Covenant Community. Even if they formed synagogues and kept the ritual law in these lands, they were still branches severed from the vine. The Jewish community was not to be scattered, nor were its people to be dispersed into groups in distant lands. They were to be a vital, living part of the community in the land God had given to them. Likewise, today, Christians are to be vital members of the community of faith. But, unlike the Jews, we are called to go into all the world. We are called to infiltrate every nation with the Gospel. Those who respond in faith are received into the universal community through the local part of that community, the local church.

Received into that community, we now are under obligation to it. We are to give ourselves to its instruction, leadership, and discipline. We enter into the spiritual discipline of prayer, Scriptures, fellowship, sacraments, and worship of the Church. When we fail in this discipline, the Church, through its ministers, has authority to call us back, and to exclude those who will not return.

In the fifth chapter of Nehemiah, the Jews have neglected their Covenant obligations to one another. Rather than working together as brethren in the Lord, some have been profiteering from the scarce food supply caused by a drought. They have sold grain at exorbitant prices, taken land and homes away from their brethren in exchange for food, and even enslaved their neighbor's children as payment. Others stole to feed their families, while still others sold their land for food. All of this was in direct violation of the Law of God and the Covenant duties of the Jews toward one another. Nehemiah verbally chastises them for treating each other so. He clearly sees this as a religious issue (rather than a social issue), in which the people are breaking the Covenant with God.

This is a good place to state that the laws of the Covenant Community do not always apply directly to those outside of it. The land of Israel, for example, was given to the Jews as their heritage, and could not be taken away from its owners except under very limited circumstances, and even then, only for a specified number of years. But this does not preclude buying and selling and investing in land by Gentiles, nor does the action urged by Nehemiah mean any person is necessarily owed food and support. Much harm has been done by well meaning people who have tried to apply Covenant Community obligations to people, business and nations that are not part of the Covenant.

Nehemiah urges the Jews to restore what rightfully belongs to others, and to deal charitably with the poor through voluntary charitable activities. He shakes dust from his robe with the prayer that God will shake out of the Covenant everyone who does not fulfill his Covenant duties.