Reading Ramblings – 9/23/12

Reading
Ramblings

Date: September 23, 2012,
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:10; Mark 9:30-37

Contextual
Notes:
We remain in the longest season of the Church
Year, the non-festival season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few
other festival Sundays, Ordinary Time will continue until the
beginning of Advent. This time of the liturgical year focuses us on
the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in light of the
resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The readings will not
always neatly line up together to form a common theme, but the Gospel
and the Old Testament readings will normally support one another. 

Jeremiah 11:18-20 –
Evil hates the one who speaks Truth. Nobody likes to hear that they
are in the wrong. Sometimes, the need to preserve our fragile
illusions of rightness and correctness lead us down dark and
dangerous paths of manipulation, threat, and even violence and
murder. Jeremiah has brought the harsh Word of God to the people of
God who have abandoned that Word. Rather than repent and seek God,
some of these chastised people plot the death of Jeremiah.

In this particular instance, the power
of God first reveals to Jeremiah the plot, and then assures him that
the perpetrators will be punished. Note that the passage doesn’t
explicitly promise Jeremiah that he will be spared from their plot,
although the implication seems rather strong. But it places the
safety of Jeremiah in a greater context – one where evil will
ultimately be punished regardless of whether or not it seems to win
the day for the moment. .

Psalm 54: 1 Samuel 23
and 26 both record instances where David is betrayed by the people
of Ziph, who promise King Saul – who is pursuing David out of
jealousy – that they will hand David over to Saul. The first time,
Saul is about to capture David and his men when an attack by the
Philistines requires Saul to divert his attention. The second time,
David and a compatriot sneak into Saul’s camp at night, making their
way all the way to the bedside of Saul himself. Instead of killing
King Saul though, David steals his spear and water jug, later showing
these to Saul from a distance and shaming him with the fact that
David could have killed him in his sleep but did not.

This Psalm takes on greater and more
specific meaning when seen from this context. Surely David was
vindicated by the Lord. Surely God sustained him. Surely the
machinations of Saul only brought disaster on himself. Surely David
was delivered. This is a Psalm of trust, written apparently at a
moment where vindication and and deliverance had yet to be grasped
fully, yet David remains steadfast in his trust in God. In
conjunction with the Jeremiah passage, we see the similarities –
prayer for protection as well as for the punishment of those who are
breaking the law of God in their intent to slay the faithful of God.

James 3:13-4:10 –
James continues his exhortations to followers of Jesus to realign
their lives in keeping with their allegiance. They are not able to
continue to live the way the world would call them to live. We can
easily recognize the world’s emphasis on selfish personal ambition,
the earthly wisdom that has led to such famous phrases as “look out
for number 1”, or “Just Do It” or even “You Deserve a Break
Today”. The world is always encouraging us to focus on ourselves
even at the expense of others.

But
our identity in Christ, our submission to his authority insists that
we no longer follow the injunctions of the world. We are to model
our lives on the servant king who saved us from selfish ambition
leading to death. Rather, we are to live in consideration of those
around us. This doesn’t mean that we have to make ourselves doormats
to every abuse and demand. But it does demand that we quit seeing
others as doormats and means to our own ends. In keeping with the
admonitions earlier in chapter 3, we are to see one another as fellow
creations of our loving God. We cannot abuse those created in the
image of God and yet claim to love God. The Law insists on fervent
love for God and
neighbor.

At
risk is salvation itself. We cannot serve two masters. Sunday
morning worship and study must inform how we live all seven days of
the week or we just might be fooling ourselves into thinking we are
Christian when we are not. We should be firmly convinced that while
we might fool ourselves, we won’t fool God.

Mark 9:30-37:
This
is the second of three times in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus
explicitly tells his disciples what is going to happen to him –
betrayal and death and resurrection. The first was in Chapter 8,
just before the Transfiguration. Our reading for today occurs within
a few days after the Transfiguration. The first time Jesus revealed
his destiny, he had to rebuke Peter for tempting him away from
obedience to his heavenly Father. Today we see the disciples once
again wildly off course, focused on their own designs and goals
rather than on their master’s suffering and death.

It
sounds rude and callous, and it is. But are we any better? How much
of our lives are spent figuring out how to improve ourselves, how to
raise our standard of living, elevate ourselves in the eyes of those
around us? How much of what we buy is geared towards demonstrating
the station in life we’ve accomplished? How much does this determine
where we live and what kind of car we drive and where we buy our
clothes? Our selfish human nature is obsessively turned inwards,
focused always on our own pleasure, our own wishes, our own
glorification.

Jesus’
example of this was a child. Children were hardly doted on in the
ancient world. They were considered less than human in a very real
way, consuming resources and contributing very little in return.
They were hardly the natural model of how to live life. Yet Jesus
sees in young children (how quickly we learn, unfortunately, to
follow the world!) a lack of self-awareness that is helpful to
illustrate his point. We are not just to think lightly of ourselves,
we are to think much of others, even those who seem least deserving
of it. Perhaps especially
these people.

Failure
to do this, a refusal to see in others fellow creations of God the
Father worthy of dignity and love simply because they exist, is a
rejection of the God who created them. Once again we are driven to
see that how we treat others is not an arbitrary issue, but a core
demonstration of where our heart towards God is. We cannot love God
but hate our fellow man.

Our
lives are spent in praise and glory of the God who has redeemed us,
and this must have practical application in how we treat others –
and therefore how we see ourselves. What we experience in worship
must both penetrate deep into our hearts to change us from the
inside, and emanate out from us in changing how we deal with others.  

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