Posts Tagged 'vision'

For Nov. 3, 2013: All Saints’ Day, Year C

The Reading            Daniel 7:1-3,15-18

The book of Daniel is set in the sixth century before Christ, after the Temple has been destroyed and the people taken into exile in Babylon. Here the prophet recounts a terrifying vision—the omitted verses describe four huge and powerful monsters with bad intentions toward Israel—but the explanation he gets builds hope.

The Response            Psalm 149

“For the Lord takes pleasure in his people and adorns the poor with victory.”

The Epistle            Ephesians 1:11-23

The church at Ephesus was one of the first and most successful of the churches believed to have been founded by the apostle Paul. Today’s reading explains what is in store for the saints—that is, for all of us who believe—and how the power of God working among us gives us hope.

The Gospel            Luke 6:20-31

“‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’”

 

Further thoughts

The readings for All Saints’ Day vary from year to year in the Revised Common Lectionary, and in consequence the themes vary too. In last year’s readings, Isaiah and the writer of Revelation sang of the wondrous banquet that awaits in heaven, the psalmist offered praise, and John told of the miraculous raising of Lazarus.

For Year C, the tone is more mixed. Psalm 149 rejoices, to be sure (though the fate awaiting other nations’ rulers is told with eyebrow-raisingly cheer), and the epistle sounds the celebratory note that one expects, that is consistent with the opening and closing of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s beloved hymn “Sine Nomine” and with the rousing “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

But the other texts for All Saints’ Day this year are somber, even threatening. The prophet Daniel reports a vision of four horrifying monsters wreaking destruction on everything. The gospel tells us that an easy life now is not necessarily a mark of God’s favor for the world to come while laying out a blueprint for Christian behavior in the face of assault or disregard that is decidedly difficult to follow. What gives?

These are verses of, by, and for outsiders. Daniel prophesies during the time of exile, when the Israelites were unwilling foreign nationals of low status and could count on being scorned, misunderstood, and mistreated accordingly. The gospel famously plays on the Beatitudes—beatus in Latin is a strong way to say ‘happy’—and part of the point is to tell us in what esteem to hold those on whom the world spits… for they are we and we are they. Jesus is raised to unprecedented honor and glory, yes—but first he had to be born to an unwed mother, be a refugee, be a truth-teller whom nobody understood, be spat on and mocked (and who knows how else bored soldiers might have humiliated him?) and then be paraded through the streets en route to dying the nastiest death Rome saw fit to inflict. In short, Jesus the outsider knows the very worst that can befall us and the very worst we can be, and that by no stretch of the imagination do we belong in heaven.

By no stretch of the imagination, that is, except his.

For it is Jesus’ love alone that makes God’s saint of me, and you, and every other outsider that ever drew breath or ever will. And it is by living Jesus’ love of those on whom the world spits that we soften the hearts that can’t listen yet—including, more often than not, our own.

For June 17, 2012: Proper 6, Year B

The Reading            1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Today’s reading follows a shock and contains a surprise. Samuel the prophet has had to tell King Saul that he is rejected as Israel’s king for disobeying God’s command to destroy the Amalekites totally. It then falls to Samuel to anoint the new king—and God declines to make what seems like the obvious choice.

The Response            Psalm 20

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Those in the city of Corinth who expected religious leaders to be handsome and rich were disappointed in the apostle Paul, judging from today’s letter. Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church is like God’s explanation to Samuel:  look below the surface and into the heart, for things may not be as they seem in this world.

The Gospel            Mark 4:26-34

 

Further thoughts

Engraved into the passenger-side rearview mirror of every car sold in the United States is this notice:

WARNING: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

Such a notice never appears on the inside rearview mirror. The reason is this: The inside mirror is made with flat glass: it need only show the view out the rear window and it is close to the driver, so its field of vision can be narrow. The outside mirror that bears the inscription uses glass that is convex or slightly curved outward: this gives the driver a wider field of vision even though it is farther from the driver, but at the cost of distorting the image so that objects in the mirror seem farther away from the driver than they really are.

We see the world using our own mental concave or convex mirrors of our experience. Like Samuel and the people of Corinth, we see external things such as another’s wealth, power, or physical beauty in the concave mirror that makes them loom very large indeed. In that mirror we also see our own preoccupations and needs and entitlements; sometimes we glory in our magnified virtues and sometimes we despair at our magnified faults. We glance in the convex mirror and glimpse another’s heartache, but it doesn’t look like so much; we assure ourselves that we have plenty of time left, till suddenly the end comes up on us like a semi out of nowhere…

That we use the mirrors so much isn’t stupid or wicked, of course: it’s merely human. I for one don’t have a God’s-eye view, much as I may sound like it—and that is a good thing, because it surely takes God’s eye and God’s heart together to keep track of all the hopes and fears and conflicting priorities of everything from the least little microbe up to the universe.

But the skilled driver knows when to switch attention briefly to either mirror in order to get a sense of what’s going on beside and behind the car, and when to stop relying on the mirrors and look directly. More to the point, the wise driver learns when it’s time to stop the car altogether, get out, and consider God’s mustard seed and the inexplicable grace through which it grows.


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