For August 10, 2014: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, Year A

The Reading            1 Kings 19:9-18

1 Kings 19 opens with Queen Jezebel of Israel promising to kill the prophet Elijah for having trounced and slain 450 priests of Baal. Elijah flees for his life. On Mount Horeb (Sinai), the Lord orders Elijah to go home to anoint new kings of Aram (Syria) and Israel—while the kings still live!—and Elisha as his own successor.

The Response            Psalm 85:8-13

In the difficult days after Israel’s exile, Psalm 85:8-13 paints an extraordinary picture of God’s: salvation and prosperity are coming for God’s people, because the truth and righteousness that condemn us are not merely in the same neighborhood but happily working hand in hand with God’s mercy and peace for our good.

The Epistle            Romans 10:5-15

The beautiful vision in Psalm 85—“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other”—is echoed in Romans 10. Righteousness comes through faith and God’s gift, and it is not just for the Jews. Let us heed the call to proclaim Jesus Christ to all the children that God yearns to bring home.

The Gospel            Matthew 14:22-33

Matthew 14 follows the story of the feeding of the multitude with the account of Jesus at the crack of dawn walking on the water of the turbulent Sea of Galilee. Seas and lakes are water in chaos and an unsurprising source of evil spirits—but Jesus controls even these.

 

Further thoughts

Expectations are subverted again and again in the readings for Proper 14. Elijah expects to meet God in the cataclysms of nature—wind, earthquake, fire—but instead the voice of God comes in the stillness. The command to return and anoint new kings is an order to participate in overthrowing those kings, in violation of ordinary civil and religious law. For the disciples struggling all night in the little boat, the Sea of Galilee fulfills the expectation that water unconstrained partakes of chaos, the primordial chaos that it took God to wrestle into ordered Creation. And of course no human being walks on the slippery willful stuff: little wonder that the disciples at first took Jesus to be something unholy!

In the psalm and the epistle, the subversion is happier. It stands to reason—human reason—that striving after righteousness is how we earn grace: given the grubbily sinful mess that is the natural truth of me, mercy surely cannot stand to be in the same room. But the psalm tells us that mercy and truth, righteousness and peace are not merely together by God’s will but cuddled up together on the sofa and beaming at me. And the epistle underscores the point that righteousness is right here, right now and always, by the will and gift of God, and for absolutely everyone irrespective of birth or means.

Like Peter, of course, I vacillate between calm certainty that I can trust God’s grace to cover my unbelief and the terrified conviction that my not-goodness means it’s all too good to be true. O Lord, save me from myself!

Whether following Jesus means literal walking on water, I hesitate to say. But what if it means extending to every one of God’s children the mercy and saving hand that I hope Jesus extends to me?

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