Posts Tagged 'having salt'

For Sept. 30, 2102: Proper 21, Year B

The Reading            Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29

The book of Numbers is named that because it begins and ends with a census or enumeration of God’s people en route from Egypt to the land of Canaan. In Hebrew it is called (רבדמב) Bemidbar, ‘in the wilderness’. In today’s reading the people’s bitter complaint—instead of manna, they want meat—frustrates Moses profoundly. The lectionary selection omits part of God’s response, which is to send so much quail as to make the Israelites literally sick of it. The rest of God’s response is echoed in today’s epistle and gospel.

The Response            Psalm 19:7-14

The Epistle            James 5:13-20

When Moses bemoaned the burden of bearing the Israelites, God responded by creating a committee to share the ministry and the spirit. It is hard not to be skeptical of groups as solutions, especially groups that we regard as “not us”—but the letter of James, which we finish today, is emphatic: healing and forgiveness come in community.

The Gospel            Mark 9:38-50

Further thoughts

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.” –Irish proverb

It’s fairly easy, given the vivid language in today’s Old Testament reading and gospel, to get distracted by the distance we may perceive between us and the people in them. When the people of Israel bellyache about the cuisine on their march through the wilderness, it’s hard not to smirk a little, and the masterwork of kvetching by Moses emphasizes our sense that these Israelites have just plain got it all wrong. Likewise, when John proudly announces that the disciples tried to stop someone who wasn’t one of them from casting out demons, only to have Jesus tell him that was uncalled-for, we roll our eyes a little; the brimstone-scented hyperbole Jesus employs to drive the point home, following as it does on the heels of that little disagreement about who was greatest, reinforces the impression that John and the disciples were rather silly.

Let’s hesitate before condemning or sneering, however, because the behavior of the Israelites, the disciples, and the contentious ones that James addresses is simply human. They—we—respond to change and stress in entirely human ways: by complaining, by critiquing, by working out pecking orders, and by seeking to identify and exclude those who don’t belong.

God’s remedy for human obtuseness and sin is, surprisingly, more humanity, laced with the Holy Spirit. Moses and the Israelites get not a miracle but a support group made up of humans—including two guys who weren’t even at the tent. In James’s community, those who are in the old Book of Common Prayer’s “trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity” obtain comfort through the prayer of fellow humans. Jesus takes on humanity to save us, and welcomes the good done even by those who are not part of the in group.

In telling me to have salt in myself Jesus means me, I think, to focus my zeal for purity and high standards firmly on my own small and sinful self; what I am called to extend to and solicit on behalf of the rest of God’s children—all of them—is grace, aid, and peace. To live into this requires that I work consciously to create a space in which others can safely disagree, be different, and confess to brokenness and need. Creating that space for any of us creates it for all, and that is the space in which the Kingdom of God comes and is.

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