Archive for July, 2007|Monthly archive page

THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

Dear Jesus,

I’ve said this to you before. I’ll probably say it again if the occasion fits. You are a revolutionary whose radical ideas have been tempered and moderated by frequent exposure. Your words don’t shock any more; especially do they not shock those who may think they are living according to your way. You’ve been painted in pastels. The message has been softened. It’s much more comfortable being your disciple now than it was when you first issued the challenge to come and follow you.

Will anyone stand with mouth agape while this Sunday’s Gospel is proclaimed? Do they hear the words? Do they understand the implications of what you say should be the attitudes that dominate our prayer? Your disciples watched you pray. Whatever they observed made them long for a similar experience for themselves. One said: Teach us to pray. You didn’t teach them how to pray. You taught them what should be the content of their prayers. And in the few short sentences that outlined that content you encapsulated the whole revolution you had in mind.

The revolution begins with the attitude you want us to have toward God. Some verbal portraits of God are daunting. God is formidable, distant, judging and condemning. All that can be commonly held in spite of the image of God in this week’s reading from Genesis, the God who looks for a reason to withhold the fury that could sweep away the innocent with the guilty. This is the God who promised when the waters receded that there would never be another flood that would destroy the world. This is the God who anticipates repentance with lavish forgiveness. This is the God who pleads, abases himself saying let me be your God and you will be my people. You say that when we pray we should call God Abba, Father.

We forget that not every child’s sire was an Abba. We forget that not every child was treasured in a safe and secure home with doting parents to respond to every need. Children in your time were property that could be bought and sold and then to live their lives as slaves. In directing us to call God Abba, you give us an insight into your relationship with God, your Abba. You challenge the accepted power structures in families. No one is to lord it over another. Children are not to be chattel. The family is to imitate and live the community that is God, each one pouring out self in loving service of each other just as you do. We stand in awe of God’s holiness that now is approachable even as we are held in God’s embrace and long to experience God’s reign in our lives and our world. Tyranny is banished forever.

Abba is the source of every blessing. You invite us to use intercessory pray but not to pray for excess goods. Give us each day our daily bread. Doesn’t that mean that we are to pray for the essentials that are necessary for our survival? That seems to me to imply a certain poverty of lifestyle. Wealthy people don’t have to worry about their next mouthful. People who are young and strong and of comfortable means might forget even as their stomachs are perpetually sated that Abba is the one who called them into existence and sustains them. And in their mind’s eye they might find it hard to imagine themselves aging and experiencing vulnerability. What would daily bread mean in that context?

Attitude. It’s true, isn’t it? The attitudes of prayer you want to inculcate in us demand that we change our perspective. The pronouns are plural. You envision a community praying, a community that is in truth and reality familial. God is our Abba, not my Abba. That’s included, of course, but you want us to recognize each other as brothers and sisters whose common Abba desires that we live as family in loving service that is imitative of Abba’s attitude towards us. Abba loves us communally.

There is something that frightens me in your next directive that has to do with forgiveness. I have no trouble acknowledging that I am a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. I pray for forgiveness daily and celebrate Reconciliation regularly. Are you saying that that is fine as far as it goes but you expect more? There is a condition you want us to place on our plea for forgiveness. That’s fine if I am a good forgiver. But what if I am not? Am I praying that Abba watches me as a forgiver and assesses the quality of that forgiveness and then forgives me in the same way? What if I bear grudges? What if I forgive but never forget? What if I can’t forgive? How can I ask God to treat me in the same way?

Ah, but now I see that there is more here. Are you directing that forgiveness be at the heart of every Christian community? Yours is not a community that is primarily judgmental, much less condemnatory, and quick to proclaim who is not welcome here. Am I hearing you correctly? You said it in another place. Come to me all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you. Is that what you expect of communities that gather in your name? We are to be sinners forgiving sinners, gathering around the common table rejoicing that all are welcome here.

How long have I been praying your prayer? I wonder as I write this if I have ever understood? And if I understood, would I have dared to utter your prayer? I am confident that it is not too late. Please open my heart and help me to live what I pray just as I ask you to help me live the Eucharist we celebrate. I believe that if my heart changes, then strengthened by the Eucharist I will not be afraid on my last day. I will understand then that strengthened by your love and the love of the community in whose midst I have prayed and served, I will recognize in those final moments that it is Abba coming to take me home where I will experience the fullness of his reign.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C: July 22, 2007

Genesis 18: 1-10a
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10: 38-42

Dear Jesus,

Hospitality. Table fellowship. These are primary values for you, aren’t they? And aren’t they to be hallmarks of treatment by those who gather in your name at your table? Forgive me, but that is why I struggle with this gospel about your visit to Martha and Mary’s home. It seems incomplete to me and in need of one more line of dialog in which you praise Martha, too.

Rublev’s Icon of the TrinityIt is, after all, Martha who welcomes you. It says that quite clearly. She is being the hospitable one even as she takes on the implications of hospitality. She prepares the table for you. She is acting like Abraham in the first reading, Abraham who welcomes the mysterious trio of visitors with reverence and is lavish in his ministrations preparing far in excess what the three could possibly consume. Did Abraham act this way because he recognized the Lord’s presence in the visitors? Or did he act this way because the demands of hospitality dictated he do so? Am I incorrect in thinking that it would cheapen the whole episode if Abraham washed their feet and placed the banquet before the three because he knew that thereby he would secure the promise that ends the piece? He did what he did because he knew it was the right thing to do only to find out that God cannot be outdone in generosity. Abraham had entertained angels unawares.

Is the problem that Martha is burdened with her chores? Should there not be joy in the service? Is that what elicits your response? Or are you rejecting what was to then the subservient and servant role that had fallen to women? Were you subtly prompting her to aspire to more than traditional feminine roles? Martha felt herself put-upon. She was keenly aware of what the moment demanded of her. Perhaps you were not the only guest? Is it possible she had a houseful of guests with you as the guest of honor? Do we have to insert her feelings of resentment in order to understand your chiding?

What is Mary’s chosen better part? Has she rejected the servant role and refused to be segregated from the men and consigned to the scullery? You say she chose the better part. This is not something that she passively fell into, much less is it a sign of laziness or blindness to the demands of hosting. Is that what this is about? Has Mary chosen to be a disciple? Is that what her sitting at your feet and listening to you signifies? That’s what disciples do. They are with you. They listen to you and drink in your words and are transformed by them, so becoming your other selves. Mary, prompted by grace and the Holy Spirit, (I say that because Paul says that is the only way responses like these can happen) chooses discipleship, chooses to listen, and chooses to be with you. What followed, should she not have been fully aware of the implications of what she was doing? Later, did she find herself among the first of those to proclaim your resurrection?

So, I come back to Martha. I notice that she calls you Lord. That means she has made her decision about you, doesn’t it? If she chooses to be your disciple, doesn’t that mean that she, too, as does her sister, wants to be with you? Are you chiding her for not putting that first? And had she put discipleship first would the joy have followed.

I place myself in the scene. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to act? You have chosen me to be a disciple and my response is the desire to be with you, to sit at your feet and listen to you. You want me to choose the better part. What should flow from that? If I do listen and if I absorb the message, then besides doing what Mary did, don’t I have to do Martha’s business too? Obviously, I do not have the limitations imposed by sexism. Still, I wonder what you would say to me were you to see me in action. And I wonder about the church. Sometimes, it seems power and position take prominent roles in those who have been called, in those who have been baptized into the priesthood of the baptized, and in those who have been ordained. We can forget that we all been called to the same thing. We’ve all been called to be disciples, to sit at your feet and listen. All of us are to exemplify hospitality and table fellowship when we gather. All are welcome here. If there is anything of arrogance about us, we’ve missed the point. If we lord power over anyone, we are not exercising discipleship. We have all been called to be servants whose faith empowers us to recognize you in the poorest of the poor and to recognize them not as inferiors but as peers.

Will you be patient with me in my struggle to embrace discipleship? Will you encourage me to cast off contrary values power, wealth, and primacy of place that can be very alluring, and let me find joy in entertaining angles unawares?

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C: July 15, 2007

Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

Dear Jesus,

It is normal and natural to want to put limits on things. The finite we can handle. The limitless boggles the mind and the imagination. Where can one hide then? What happens to excuses for not living up to the ideal? What terrifies me is the one with whom you had this exchange with asked the question about the means to inherit eternal life. The answer you give him is basic information that applies to everyone. It should be as obvious as Moses’ plea to the people to heed the voice of the Lord. Isn’t Moses saying that God plants the seeds of the way in the human heart, gifts us with instincts that if followed, mark the doer as God’s own? Dare I ask if doing this is what makes us human, the clay shaped by the Potter’s hands?

Then I wonder if this living of basic relationship with God and neighbor marked by love is basic for everyone, what more do you expect of those who are your disciples. But maybe, I am getting ahead of myself and forgetting that you set your own pouring out of self as the example, the new norm. That is what one is to do if s/he would be your disciple. Always. For everyone. No limits. Dare I even consider this? Dare I ask the questions that the Samaritan story raises in my heart? And if you give me the answers, whether I am ready for them or not, what will be my excuse then?

God knows the human heart, its strengths and its weaknesses. That knowing God would not command what the imperfect being is incapable of carrying out. I think it is interesting that the scholar of the law doesn’t react to your iteration of the limitless love the Law commands the human to have for God. Love God with your entire being. The scholar doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. Is that because loving God entirely seems almost easy to do until you link that loving and make a sign of that loving the love exhibited for the neighbor? And does his desire to justify himself mean that he wishes to reconcile his past actions with this new insight you have challenged him to accept?

Who is my neighbor? You tell the story of the kind and generous Samaritan. Assemblies have heard the story at least every three years for generations. And seldom have I seen anyone flinch or heard anyone gasp. But wasn’t that the response you were looking for when you told the story? Isn’t this tale supposed to shock and call forth a sense of need for grace, for conversion, if one is to be your disciple instead of one of the crowd? Don’t you want the hearer to ask, Who can do this?

What would happen if before the central figure that exemplifies what a neighbor does is identified, you asked the seeker a question in return? What if you asked the one who wants to know what s/he must do to inherit eternal life, Tell me whom you hate. Tell me whom you despise, whom you shun or ignore or demean or debase. And that one becomes the Good character that exemplifies the response to grace that you are looking for. Then there might be a gasp. The hearer might shudder. The one you hold up as exemplar might even anger him/her. Who can do this?

You used the Samaritan as a paragon to a man who thought observance of the Law, what would mark him as a good and God-fearing Jew, meant considering the Samaritan untouchable. To come into contact with a Samaritan would mean to incur ritual impurity. S/he would not be able to enter into worship until s/he was purified. That one held in contempt is the example of what a neighbor does, to say nothing of who is my neighbor. Did that scholar hurl back at you, That’s not what I asked? I asked, who is my neighbor. You tell me what a neighbor does. Is that fair?

Who would be the Good Samaritan for someone in Northern Ireland – a Protestant or a Catholic depending to which side s/he owed allegiance? Who would be the Samaritan for the stereotypical Southerner in the USA – a Black or a Caucasian, depending? I suppose you could divide up or oppose the sides with anyone the hearer feels free to hate.

I’ve thought about this. It may be why I write this letter daring to ask the same question. I long for eternal life. Will I be putting eternal life beyond my reach if I cannot carry out the implications of this story? Aren’t you saying that I have to be the Good Samaritan to the one I despise? I have to turn the other cheek once I have been struck. I must embrace my betrayer. I must love practically the one who hates me without seeking retaliation. It is my responsibility to bind up the wounds of the one who hurled the rocks at me.

I’ll understand if you don’t get back to me right away on this matter. That will give me more time to ponder the issues and to wonder what you would have me do.

Sincerely,

Didymus