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Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Not So Great Omission

According to the website I visited the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Revised Common Lectionary all agree on the second reading today (7 Easter, the Sunday after the Ascension). The reading will be from Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20. What this means is, if you have an insert of the readings, you will read straight through without knowing you  are missing verses 5 & 18-19. The great irony is what those verses contain. The vast majority of Christians in this country will not see it and most will not know it.

First of all, readings are often shortened and shaped by the the Church. You cannot read the whole Bible each time you gather so you have to begin and end somewhere. Usually, if a reading is too long, there are bracketed sections, which provides the local congregation the option of focusing on a smaller section or including the whole. The problem with verse skipping is you do not know what is not there. It is imporant to see what gets left out. I do not know who made the choice in today's reading. I wonder what it says about us....

Revelation 22 is the end of the Bible. The last two chapters of Revelation (21-22) are an amazing, uplifting and joy evoking declaration of the end of things (or the Real Beginning!). There is a new Jerusalem, like a Bride. She is God's original plan finally realized. Throughout the OT (Ancient Covenant) texts we see the image of God and Israel as spouses. Finally, we see here, God will dwell among us. He will wed His bride! The description of the City echoes the Garden of Eden and the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel. There are also Psalms which come to mind. I hope to look at that later in  the week.

There is celebrative language. 22:12 begins with the declaration, "See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me to repay according to everyone's works." [Side note, saved by faith does not disclude judgement for works, at least not in the actual Bible] There is much discussion and debate about the meaning of "soon" and some think it refers to the judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD when the city/people which rejected the Messiah was leveled and wiped out. Others think it refers to a later coming, at the 'end of time.' Personally I think it is both, because that is how apocalyptic language works, historically, literally, spiritually, figuratively, metaphorically. Lots of layers of meaning.

After the text announces another Beatitude (if memory serves me right there are seven listed throughout the entire work. Sevens figure throughout the Book of Revelation, again and again.).  "Blessed are those..." It is typical of how Jesus spoke in Matthew's sermon on the mount as well. Here we hear the Blessed ones are those who have washed their robes and have the right to the Tree of Life. The Blessed are able to enter the city. So far, so good, but suddenly we skip over the next verse (in most churches across America) and do not hear the following: Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Hmmmm, wonder why that was cut out?

I think there is a high degree of discomfort with difficult sayings Let's face it, there are worrisome things said here. It is all the more worrisome when you read the rest of the Bible and discover that Jesus says our hearts' desires (anger and lust) are murder and fornication. Yikes! Does that mean I am outside the gates? And idolatry is described some place as greed and in another as sexual immorality.  And falsehood is a way of life in this society. My guess is the content of these verses offend. And in the Episcopal Wars they draw attention to the great marriage debate. We can hardly claim a new sexual morality when the old one is defined in such stark terms. We can hardly tell conservative types, "sex doesn't matter" when the Suunday reading (and big crowds today, it is Mother's Day) openly declares that it matters enough that some will be outside the gates of the New Jerusalem. They will be outside of God's circle.

But the verse will not be read, it will not be preached on and no one will hear or know. Well, if you are reading this you know!

The other verses, 18&19 are even more amazing. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person's share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.


Someone sat down, read those words and decide to take them out of the reading today. The lection skips those words but concludes with the next two verses. So someone read, "if anyone takes away" and decided, "we need to take these verse away from the reading." Am I the only one who finds this unbelievable? So we take away the verse that warns against taking away from the words of this reading.....

In the end, we all do, of course. We take away, sometimes consciously and intentionally, but usually unconsciously. We do not even see the words at times. Never even hear them. Our minds are made up already. I am in a conversation about the eucharist with a very Protestant minded fellow. He basically told me my faith is heretical. As he makes his interpretation of the texts he skips over anything which does not fit his arguments. I am stunned by his refusal to read it all. I am sure he thinks I do the same, I am sure I do....

The "great omission" in my life, and yours, is the whole revelation of God. Revelation (apocalypse is the Greek word and it means "unveiling") is God telling us what He wants us to know. Since the Garden, we have regularly edited His message to fit our wants and needs. I am not condemning the editors of the lectionary, though I am curious and a bit skeptical of their motivation. Even so, I am also skeptical of my own motivation. I have my own sins to cover and my own axe to grind. So do you. It is best to learn from this and ask God for the wisdom and courage needed to not edit Scripture. Come Holy Spirit, save us from ourselves! amen.


  1. Thank you for your faithfulness in reading and teaching the Bible and recognizing edited versions. May God bless your obedience to Him and your love to and for this parish.

  2. Apparently, the whole lot of mid-XXth century lectionary designers did not have confidence in the perfection of God's word.
    Rather than being depressing, irrelevant, distractions, both omissions contain Gospel Good news for the Elect of God:
    Verse 15 assures us absolutely that our tormentors will no longer be around to harass us in the Heavenly Jerusalem, and vv 18-19 assure us of the absolute sufficiency, and the vital necessity, of the Word of God written.
    Occasionally, in a very repetitive section, a shortening of Scripture for liturgical reasons may be understandable. This is not such a case.

  3. whatever ails the church today has been around for a long while...