Thursday, June 18, 2009

Proper 8 Year B

Proper 8 Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

II Samuel 1:1,17-27; Psalm 130
OR Wisdom of Solomon; Lamentations 3:21-33 OR Psalm 30
II Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

David's moving and eloquent lament over the death of the King, Saul, and his eldest son, Jonathan, expresses national and personal loss. He is filled with shame and outrage over the defeat of Israel and the image of the corpses of the King and his son left on the field of battle. And for his beloved Jonathan he declares, "your love to me was more wonderful, passing the love of women."

The psalmist asks-- if the Lord showed no mercy for our failures, "who would survive?" Even in the bleakest night, on the verge of being overwhelmed by remorse and guilt, we wait-- even more intently than those whose job it is to look for the first hint of dawn-- for the Lord's "steadfast kindness" and "great redemption."

Presented in the form of a dialogue between (Greek) nihilism and hedonism and traditional Judaism, the "Wisdom of Solomon" engages in the big questions. In this excerpt, the writer presents the world as a conflict between "God," "generative forces," righteousness" with "poison," "the devil's envy," "death."

Written in response to the sack of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the subsequent de-population of the Holy City, these lamentations express the staggering sadness and, at the same time, the hope that sustained God's people. "By God's kindness, we are not destroyed/for God's mercies are never-ending/and are new every morning." "...After sending grief/[the Lord] relents."

The psalmist recalls an occasion when he confronted his own death, but was "raised up" by God. God's wrath lasts a moment, but God's pleasure lasts a lifetime/one goes to bed weeping/but wakes up in the morning ready to sing. Death is mute, but You, O Lord, turned my sad song into a dance tune!

Paul describes Jesus' humiliation and execution as a "generous act," the "generous act" par excellence! Therefore, be generous, he writes to the Corinthians, so that there is a "fair balance" between "your present abundance" and the needs of others.

Mark starts one miracle narrative, recalls another on the same occasion, and then returns to the one already begun. Each contains important declarations made by Jesus. As word spreads the crowds around Jesus grow larger and more expectant. On this occasion, a leader of the local synagogue, Jarius, seeks out Jesus and when he finds him falls at his feet and begs him to come home with him because his young daughter is at death's door. Jesus obliges. Making his way through the crowds, Jesus is aware that another person has sought him out that day and asks, "Who touched my clothes?" Considering the people pressing in on Jesus the disciples consider that a pointless question. Nevertheless, a woman who was in her own way at the end of her rope, reveals her identity. She has suffered from hemorrhaging for twelve years and endured useless medical care which has bankrupted her. Immediately Jesus declares, "...Your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed...." The earlier emergency intrudes again when some people who had been at the home of Jarius relay the news, "Your daughter is dead." Immediately Jesus declares, "Do not fear, only believe." They arrive at the home of Jarius, Jesus takes him, his wife and three disciples into the girl's room where he tells the child to "get up." She gets up immediately and begins to walk. Jesus instructs that she be given something to eat and not to tell anyone what they have all just witnessed.

Biblical narratives are noticeably not much interested in life after death, but they are possessed with the life we do know and experience daily. Robert Alter comments that the point of Psalm 30 comes in verse 10: "man[sic] cannot fulfill his vocation of celebrating God if he is engulfed by death. It is living human beings whom God needs to sing His praises." (Book of Psalms, p. 103)

When biblical narratives consider life before death and especially those occasions of heightened awareness due to life-threatening situations they generally speculate that if God is known first-hand by reliability, mercy and the unique generosity of the gift of life in and of itself, then we can reasonably have hope about the lesser-known future after death. Looking deeply at this life before death, which is, of course, the only life of which we have actual experience, they see in the cycle of night always followed by morning a rhythm that inspires hope-- God's displeasure lasts a moment, but God's pleasures last a life-time; we go to bed full of anxiety but wake up the next morning renewed by the gift of a new day before us. (And Paul introduces an ethical imperative. We should use whatever time, health, ability and assets we are given to make sure that there is a "fair balance" with those currently in more need than we are.)

Mark's intertwining narratives begin full of anxiety. A father, desperate because his young daughter is at death's door, prostrates himself before Jesus in front of a crowd of neighbors of whom he is a leader in the synagogue and begs for help. Before Jesus can get to the man's home, a woman who is physically, emotionally and financially near ruin reaches out to Jesus in the belief that if she can just brush against his clothing she will find help. In both cases, their faith saved them just before ruin or death. Specifically and significantly, Mark writes that Jesus says, Your Faith has saved you; Do not fear, only trust!

The reality of death set in motion Martin Heidegger's magnum opus,
Being and Time. The reality that at some point each one of us will no longer exist in this life, which is all we have ever known concretely, is a jolt that re-shuffles how we use whatever time we have. Therefore, Heidegger concludes, we can "choose" to live life as fully as we can; we can"own" it and ourselves as fully as possible. He writes of "an impassioned freedom towards death" -- a freedom which frees us from the illusion of just going-along-to-get-along, the freedom to become deeply and passionately involved in the world and with others.

At the intellectual and emotional climax of his meditation,
The Unforgettable and the Unhoped For, Jean-Louis Chretien writes, "It is in the very event of the wound by which our existence is altered and opened, and becomes itself the site of the manifestation of what it responds to. There is true force only in weakness, a weakness that is opened up by what comes toward us. The wound can bless...." [emphasis added] It all "comes down to thinking finitude positively, as the place where there can truly be -- though not transparently-- a testimony to the infinite." (p. 122) "The acute point of the present and our presence takes its acuity only from its encounter with the inordinate extremities of a time that is not ours, but also the way the whole of humanity encounters the One who calls it to itself, and the way each of us encounters a past more ancient than all memory and a future beyond all expectation." (p. 124) "...The human body does not respond solely by itself, ... its task and dignity are to speak for all that does not speak, to be the place where the world transforms its light into song." (p. 128) Or, as the psalmist turned a similar image, to turn our sad songs into dance tunes!

To the woman at the end of her rope, what did Jesus say? "Your trust has saved you." To the panicked parents what was his message? "Do not fear, only believe." Imagine how the woman healed by "trust" and Jarius and his family liberated from fear lived the rest of their days! We can just barely envision how they witnessed with enthusiasm and seized each new morning busy with making sure there was a "fair balance" with those whom they could help in their own particular way because of there unique experiences. "The wound can bless...."