Posts Tagged 'exile'

For Nov. 17, 2013: Proper 28, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 65:17-25

The prophet Isaiah speaks to Israelites who, after exile in Babylon, return to Jerusalem laid waste, the temple burned, and their lives in ruins. Isaiah attributed these disasters and more to the people’s disobedience. This Sunday’s reading, however, sings joyously of God’s gracious intentions for the people.

The Response            Canticle 9

“Cry aloud inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.”

The Epistle            2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

While the Old Testament this Sunday prophesies grace, the epistle lays down the law. The author, who may or may not be Paul, is vexed with first-century believers who, instead of doing productive work, are ataktos peripatountos—less nearly ‘living in idleness’, as our translation has it, than ‘going around sowing disorder’.

The Gospel            Luke 21:5-19

“‘By your endurance you will gain your souls.’”

 

Further thoughts

As the beginning of Advent nears, the Proper 28 readings fittingly touch on order and irony.

The passage from Isaiah is a glowing depiction of orderliness and rightness. We deeply feel the unfairness of little children having to lose their parents and parents having to bury their children; we perceive wrongness in people dying too young to collect on their 401(k)s; in nature documentaries, we flinch when the defenseless little zebra calf falls to the ravening lion even as we concede that the lion is simply being who the lion is. Isaiah foresees a world in which things are put right, and it is tremendously appealing.

On the face of it, the epistle goes in a different direction. 2 Thessalonians 3:10—“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”—is widely quoted out of context as a condemnation of the chronically lazy; it resonates well with the sense of enjoying what one has properly earned that makes Isaiah’s vision appealing, and the NRSV’s rendering of the Greek phrase ataktos peripatountos in 3:3 and 3:11 as ‘living in idleness’ contributes to that impression. The problem that the passage addresses, however, isn’t mere laziness: ataktos is ‘disorderly’ and peripatountos is literally ‘around-walking’ (as in English peripatetic), so this is active interference. The rest of 3:11 calls the ataktos believers not ergazomenous ‘working’ but periergazomenous; the play on words suggests the painful irony of busyness that is badly off target. In such a world, professing Christians toting prayer books toddle off for a comfortable round of gossip about people we just finished hugging and sharing Eucharist with. In this world budgets dictate slapdash subsoil containment from which toxins leach into drinking water; monuments to piety and/or greed soar and shine while those who have never caught an even break—and, too often, those damaged while serving our nation at war—squat in doorsteps and scrounge in dumpsters for food.

It is messy, this world of ours, and in today’s gospel Jesus fails to do much about it. He doesn’t promise to strengthen the Temple or eliminate war or make natural disasters stop, or to keep out of jail or the media or others’ gossip, nor to keep our families from splintering, nor to eradicate any of the predators of which this world is so full (including the two-footed ones, and sometimes that means us).

What he does promise is to give us the wisdom and the heart to stay in this messy world and speak his words and be his hands and feet, if we choose to listen and keep listening. For, in God’s richest irony, it is meeting the deepest fears and needs of God’s children around us with God’s love that is the real work of the Kingdom.

For Oct. 13, 2013: Proper 23, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Much of the book of Jeremiah predicts the doom and disaster that do indeed come to pass in the form of the defeat of Jerusalem, the razing of the Temple, and the exile in the land of the enemy. Jeremiah goes on to lament the losses—but life goes on, and this Sunday’s verses give God’s advice as to how.

The Response            Psalm 66:1-11

“Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 2:8-15

Wise words to a young and uncertain church leader continue in this Sunday’s reading from the second book of Timothy. The point of belief, whether or not it includes suffering like a criminal, is not to be “wrangling over words”—that is, sowing or abetting contention—but to follow Christ Jesus who died and rose and is faithful.

The Gospel            Luke 17:11-19

“‘Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’”

 

Further thoughts

The readings for this Sunday speak of alienation—but not of exclusion.

The Israelites in Babylon are unwilling resident aliens, chafing under defeat and exile in a land of foreign customs and gods and unsure how to worship with the Temple destroyed, for in no other place can one perform the rituals of sacrifice and atonement that the Torah commands. The firebrand Jeremiah counsels not opposition but accommodation, and prayers for good for the city to which they have been taken. They, and we, are reassured that God can be worshiped and served no matter where we are or among whom.

The author of 2 Timothy writes from the alienation of jail. He carries forward the faith that he won’t stop proclaiming among strange peoples on the strength of verses 11 to 13—which probably come from an ancient hymn, as reflected in the formatting on The Lectionary Page—and he reminds us that the gospel is not chained. But his warning Christians against “wrangling with words” ring true over the centuries: how easily we forge chains of doctrine that alienate our fellow Christians and also alienate the rest of the world.

Galileans are looked down on in Jesus’ time, as in the story of Nathanael: Galilee lies beyond despised Samaria, whose people worship God but not as the Jews do. Reduced to existing in the no-man’s-land in between are the lepers. In appealing to Jesus for mercy, they commit a breach of the Law; an alienating response or no response at all would be expected. Jesus instead bids them visit the priests, who have power to ban and lift bans (but not to heal). I can’t help wondering what it sounded like, for off they go—stung or stunned or strengthened, one can’t say—and the miracle happens. And then the further miracle happens: the Samaritan leper, the twice-alien, is the one who stops and turns around, giving thanks to God, and throws himself at Jesus’ feet. For gratitude is the miracle of the heart recognizing a gift and a home.

For Jan. 13, 2013: 1 Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 43:1-7

Chapters 40 to 55 of the book of Isaiah most probably date from the time of exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. After long silence, the Holy One speaks again, calling Israel back out of exile, declaring love, and announcing willingness to redeem all God’s people, no matter how high the price and no matter where they are.

The Response            Psalm 29

The Second Reading            Acts 8:14-17

Our second reading today is from the book of Acts. Jesus’ command to go to all nations combines with rising persecution in Jerusalem to propel Philip on mission to Samaria, where joyful crowds of both men and women accept baptism. The apostles decide to investigate.

The Gospel            Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

 

Further thoughts

The constant in the readings for the first Sunday in Epiphany is change. In Isaiah, God calls Israel to transition from exile in Babylon back to freedom in Jerusalem—though, as it turned out, life in Jerusalem wasn’t what the Israelites expected it to be. The reading from Acts shows the church transitioning—whether it liked the idea or not—from a local concern for a subset of Jewish men to a movement that was intertribal, intergender, and indeed en route to being international—though the apostles seem to have experienced some cognitive dissonance over the possibility that the despised Samaritans should provide the welcome to the Word that one might have expected of God’s own Israelites. Luke shows us Jesus transitioning into his earthly ministry, with an astonishing sign following a good deal of wondering and speculation on the part of others.

Human beings tend not to find transitions easy, one way or another. As we come today to the end of the ministry of Lark Diaz among us, it occurs to me first that it is very human not to be comfortable with transition.

This discomfort may well have been shared by Jesus. For we believe that Jesus is true God—the true God of today’s psalm, whose voice makes stolid oak trees writhe like eels, whose power is limitless, who sits enthroned for ever. But this God voluntarily was born into our world of change and loss, and went through all the transitions of life: birth, then the challenges of toddlerhood, middle childhood, the considerable trials of adolescence (can anyone imagine Jesus not having a God-sized case of adolescent angst?), adulthood, and finally the loss of status and dignity in the trials and suffering followed by death. Unless Jesus retained no memory at all of being God, all of this earthly transition must have been incredibly jarring.

But, say Isaiah and the psalmist, God is the constant through all of our transitioning. Whatever the disasters, God loves us forever and is prepared to make good on that love, though in ways we often can’t imagine. Even though a transition involves grief and even humiliation, and though the final transition for us is our extinction, God is with us, and God has walked this path.

But what if the God of eternity is also the God of eternal change?


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