A reflection for Sunday, 5th July 2020
If you look at the Gospel reading for today, it is clear that a process of revisionism has been taking place. The compilers of the lectionary feel that it is appropriate to try to cut the nasty bits from the Scripture readings in church.
Do the compilers feel that the omitted verses somehow conflict with the message the church seeks to convey? Do they fear that the words are too harsh for the sensibilities of members of congregations?
The church seems to have become very selective in its reading of Scripture. The Gospel reading for is from Saint Matthew Chapter 11, from verse 16 to verse 30, but it leaves out verses 20-24.
These are the verses which are excluded, presumably it is mention of judgment that causes offence to the lectionary editors:
Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
The tendency to brush over harsh moments is not confined to Jesus’ words on judgment.
Being forced to flee their country as refugees, becoming asylum seekers, living in exile, was an experience endured by Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus, but the editors who cut judgment out of Jesus’ words also cut the story of the flight to Egypt out of the Epiphany story. Perhaps the idea of Jesus as a refugee and asylum seeker is too much for the ears of those in the pews.
The Gospel reading for 6th January always stops short of telling what happened when the wise men returned to their own country by another route. The disturbing reality, that the Holy Family escape from the bloody slaughter of children by Herod’s men is omitted from the Epiphany story, the excuse being that it is read on Holy Innocents’ Day, 28th December: how many people are in church to hear it then? Why is it not in a Sunday reading?
Harsh experiences endured by Jesus and harsh words spoken by Jesus are part of the harshness of the world in which we live. Leaving out verses of the Bible doesn’t change the reality of what happened, it is not possible to have a Gospel that is free from pain. Belief in the incarnation, the belief that God takes on human flesh, is about Jesus living life in all of its fullness, living a life that is fully human. Such a life included moments that might be unpleasant to the compilers of lectionaries, but should not be left out of Bible readings.
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