Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Proper 5 (Year A)

Proper 5 (Year A)

Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12
Or Hosea 5:15-6:6; Psalm 50: 7-15;
Romans 4:13-18; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Abram is called to go on a journey with God. The destination is the future-- future generations, future nations and future blessing. Despite his old age, Abram leaves home and begins the journey. If we can imagine ourselves at seventy-five, (or if we happen to be close to seventy-five !) Abram's response is still breathtakingly inspiring and instructive.

The psalmist is struck by a renewed awe of creation and calls for the composition of a new anthem: praise the God who created all that is and whose heart holds dear "all generations."

Or Hosea proffers a conversation God has with God: the people I have chosen seem to think of me like the gods of their neighbors who can be influenced by ritual or other human actions; but I want their "steadfast love."

Isaiah and Micah explicitly rejected the assumption that blood sacrifice could sway God. Now the psalmist rejects the notion that God needs our sacrifices. God prefers our "vows."

Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul honors the Law for what it is, but insists that "the righteousness of faith" precedes and supersedes the Law. He offers Abraham as an exemplar. Long before the Law had even been given to Moses, Abram, "hoping against hope," heard God's call, responded and we are still benefiting from Abraham and Sarah's faithfulness.

Jesus contrasts those who take a chance on what he is saying with those whose practice of religion seems more conventional, reasonable, practical, understandable and manageable. "The Pharisees" in this excerpt are the traditionalists who love the Law and attempt to fulfill it in every detail. In contrast are the low-life Matthew and his ilk, with whom Jesus eats and parties. Into this standoff two very unlikely people demonstrate the response Jesus is looking for and are restored. A leader of the local synagogue-- that is a leader and practitioner of conventional religion-- is desperate. A personal crisis has overwhelmed all that he has trusted throughout his life. His daughter has died. At the other social extreme, an outcast woman, not even noticed by the crowd, reaches out just to brush Jesus' clothing. Both act out of futility with all the familiar, traditional assumptions about God. Their desperation makes them open to something and someone new. Both are restored. Jesus tells the woman, "Your faith has made you well."

Right from the very beginning of his work, Heidegger focused on what he called "ontotheology," the tendency in the West to conceptualize God as an extension of human understanding. That insight has been pursued with unique emphases by among others Levinas, Derrida and Marion, down to his most recent work. Operating from overtly religious concerns or not, the result has been the same, and, it is a pivotal point in what is usually described as postmodern thought regarding Western religion: God is wholly Other; scripture is not concept, principle, plan, rule or fortune-teller, it is narrative of various individuals and groups in response to God as wholly Other; the only conclusion that can be drawn from this relationship with God and humankind is that we are the beneficiaries of "gift" beyond any human experience; this narrative is only about relationship-- affective response to God and moral obligation to one another.

In Hosea's time, it was those who thought God could be second-guessed by pious ritual sacrifice, as the gods of their neighbors seemed to be. In Jesus' day it was those who loved and followed all the venerable traditions. In his time, Paul was always coping with those new followers of Jesus whose religious upbringing had been the same as Jesus' with those whose religious background had been exotic, pagan. Surely the insiders had the inside track. The quest to figure out God and thereby somehow at least influence if not manipulate God is ageless. Therefore, the God of scriptural texts could not be further from all preconceptions and conventional assumptions about religion.

Hosea reports God say: "I have killed them by the words of my mouth, my judgement goes forth as light." When the God of the biblical texts speaks, no one escapes, no one is exempted, no one is excluded, no preconceived ides or practices no matter how pious or venerable can withstand the blast. Only after all our presuppositions about God have been smashed to smithereens (only those who know they need help beyond themselves as Jesus says) are we ready to hear God. What does God really want: "steadfast love," which is both more liberating and more binding.