By The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston
Deuteronomy 16 sets forth the observance of three festival times: (1) Passover; (2) Weeks; and (3) Booths [Tents, Tabernacles]. Passover, held during March-April, is distinguished by the requirement that it be celebrated at the central sanctuary; therefore, it is a pilgrimage time. The sacrificial meal must not contain leaven, so as to recall forever Israel’s hasty departure from slavery in Egypt. The Feast of [seven] Weeks was a wheat harvest festival held culminating in our month of June. By New Testament times it was known as Pentecost (“50th Day”), and it was richly celebrated. Booths was an ingathering festival held in the autumn. It was what we may term the New Year and was the most popular of the feast times. From these three feasts, we see that it was most important for the common life of Israel to be regulated by the regular and rhythmic–indeed, sanctified– cycles of the annual calendar. There follows (16:18-17:20) a section of laws dealing with the administration of justice, with warnings against corruption so that justice and only justice is pursued. The severity of the crime of idolatry is once again emphasized by the death penalty. Provision is also made for the priests to exercise absolute judicial authority. Disobedience of the priestly ruling is also punishable by death. This is said to prevent the people from acting presumptuously over and against God-chosen authority. Interestingly, from 17:14 a weak vision of kingship is described, because at this time a strong monarchy is still alien to their current practice of theocracy. Chapter 18 begins with the rights of the Levitical priests; these priests may not hold or inherit wealth and so are entitled to support. The chapter closes with warnings against the practices of pagan religions and their rites as well as discussion of proper and authoritative prophecy. Clearly, such matters are very much a concern for Israel’s religious life.
How does one address the problem of unjust, unrighteous rulers? The author of Psalm 58 composed what is technically a “lament” and yet reads as a condemnation and contains ancient elements of curse (v.6-9). The just desserts of such rulers are seen as the vindication of the sovereignty of God and the life of the righteous.
Luke 16 has two parables, both dealing with questions relating to personal wealth that become translated into spiritual terms and realities. The dishonest manager proved to be shrewd in securing his future; believers must be prudent in living so as to obtain eternal life. Material things have eternal consequences! The haunting parable of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, strikes at us much more personally, if only because it seems more straightforwardly understandable. Though our personal details may be much less dramatic, we might easily worry if we’re in this parable and on the wrong side.
What kind of authority does the Christian liturgical calendar have in your life?
Are you generous with your wealth? How do you provide for the poor?
O Lord, may your grace shape me into the person you created me to be. Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston is the Bishop of Virginia