For July 1, 2012: Proper 8, Year B

The Reading            Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24

The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon was probably composed within the two centuries before the birth of Jesus. It was written for Jews who were struggling to keep the faith in the midst of the pagan culture of a city like Alexandria in Egypt. Today’s passage poses an eternal question: why do death and other bad things happen?

The Response            Lamentations 3:21-33

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 8:7-15

In today’s reading, Paul bids the community at Corinth to carry out a promise to contribute aid for the destitute congregation in Jerusalem. If they give eagerly and in love, he says, whatever they can manage will be acceptable and it will be enough.

The Gospel            Mark 5:21-43

 

Further thoughts

A ten-year-old boy whom I know spent the small hours of last Wednesday night knocked out on morphine. He has multiple hereditary exostoses, or growths on his long bones. Though ugly, they are usually painless—but one of William’s exostoses is growing between the tibia and fibula bones of his lower leg, forcing them apart. On Wednesday night in the ER, nothing short of morphine would give William relief.

Last Saturday, Margaret “Stevie” Andreen died. For decades she was a valued and vital part of the life of this church, with a delightful wit and a keen joy in life. Then for no apparent reason her hip joint snapped, starting a downward spiral of pain and debility that kept her housebound for the last several years of her life.

Some people may say that William’s agony and Stevie’s are God’s will. Others will say that God sends us no trial that we cannot endure. I refuse to make either claim to William or to his mother, or to the children and grandchildren and friends that Stevie has left behind. What kind of God would deliberately inflict such pain on a child or such grief on his mother, or make a woman of Stevie’s grace and generosity a prisoner of her own body?

In short, this is the old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? People of greater wisdom and faith than I have explored this question for millennia.

One answer comes in the reading from the Greek-influenced Book of the Wisdom of Solomon. It tells us that death and destruction and corruption are not God’s fault: those bad things come to us through the devil’s envy, though God may choose to intervene as Jesus did in healing the woman of the twelve-year-long menstrual flow and restoring the daughter of Jairus to life. That is, I think, something of a cop-out: why does an all-good and all-powerful God see fit to make the bad stuff stop for some people but not others?

I don’t pretend to have a good answer, but let me suggest that the letter to the Corinthians points us in the direction of a worthy response. Paul called upon the Corinthians to remember Jesus’ great gift and to give from the heart for the relief of the church in Jerusalem. So also a throng of people gathered in our church yesterday with Stevie’s family, giving of their time and their tears in thanks for the gift of Stevie’s presence in their lives. Similarly, on Tuesday, young William will undergo surgery that should begin to ease his suffering— 400 miles from his home, in a hospital built and equipped and staffed through both generous gifts by and taxes imposed on residents of a state in which he has never lived.

Even when our distress is clearly much more the fruit of our own stupidity or pride than Stevie’s or William’s, it moves God—so profoundly that God gave Jesus to die to save us. Insofar as someone else’s need matters to us enough to move us to give from the heart, we ourselves come as Christ to save and salve God’s world.

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