Monday, June 9, 2008

Proper 7 (Year A)

Proper 7 (A)

Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86: 1-10,16-17
OR Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20
Romans 6: 1b-11; Matthew10:24-39
(Revised Common Lectionary)

The Abraham/Sarah narrative continues. The time has come to celebrate the weaning of Isaac. Sarah expels from the household Hagar, the slave who bore a son, Ishmael, to Abraham when Sarah was still barren fourteen years earlier. In the wilderness, Hagar is panicked over their fate. God hears the voice of the child and promises to Hagar that he, too, will be the first father of a great nation and God shows her a source for water.

The psalmist describes his dire situation as lonely, needy, hated, shamed. But he places his fate in the Lord's grace.


Jeremiah dreads the task of being a doom-sayer. But he also believes the passion within him, because it is so intense, could be from God. Therefore, he trusts that at some point in the future God will bring some retribution on those who are torturing him now. "O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause."

The psalmist's loyalty to God has been costly. His relationships, his family, his image in the community have all been lost. "Come near and redeem me, ransom me," he pleads to God.

Paul argues that the followers of Jesus should expect to experience a kind of death -- "die to sin"-- but, as with Jesus, this death will lead to life.

Jesus has been called crazy and even possessed. His followers should also expect such violence and hatred. Following him could alienate family. "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it...."

The biblical texts do not endorse any human values, no matter how noble, pious, appealing, sacrosanct, conventional or venerable. Indeed, as these texts demonstrate, biblical texts can pointedly challenge our most dearly held priorities and assumptions.

In the Abraham/Sarah narrative, the divine promise of a son is complicated by family jealousy, conflicting claims of legitimacy and rivalry between siblings and their descendants to accomplish God's different priority. The prophet Jeremiah loses friends, status and personal security to accomplish what he believes is Yahweh's work, which takes over his life. Jesus publicly renounces his family and also raises the possibility/likelihood that those who follow him might lose all they value in life "for his sake."

In his brooding meditation (mid rash ?) on the Abraham/Sarah narrative, Jacques Derrida in
The Gift of Death imagines God saying to Abraham "I can see right away that you have understood what absolute duty toward the unique one means, that it means responding where there is no reason to be asked for or given; I see that you have not only understood that as an idea, but that-- and here lies the responsibility-- you have acted on it...." "you had the courage to behave like a murderer in the eyes of the world and of your loved ones, in the eyes of morality, politics...." "And you even renounced hope." (pp 72-73) Derrida also has already reached a powerful conclusion: "My first and last responsibility, my first and last desire, is the responsibility that relates me to what no one else can do in my place." (p. 44) Throughout Being and Time, Heidegger discusses what he calls "authenticity," which is one's passionate, unique engagement with life as opposed to "inauthentic" just getting along.

Surely no one can reasonably conclude that biblical texts are commanding disruption or even cutting-off normal familial and social relationships as a goal within themselves. But they do insist unequivocally on that possibility for each person in order to fulfill her or his own unique spiritual, moral, psychological responsibilities. We can think of certain heroes; Martin Luther King comes to mind quickly for many. But each of us, in our own particular circumstances, can discover and engage with that high calling "which no one else can do in my place"