Saturday, February 20, 2010

Second Sunday in Lent Year C

Second Sunday in Lent C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

God's relationship with Abram/Abraham is direct, revelatory and revealing.  God makes impossible requests of Abraham and Sarah and, in return,  makes staggering promises.  In this episode Abram receives in a vision further assurances from the Lord of the Lord's favor and future rewards.  But Abram has an immediate worry, he has no heir.  Only a slave in his household is the stand-in heir"But the word of the Lord came to him."  The Lord took him outside at night, told him to look up at the starry sky and then made a promise that Abram would have an son, an heir, and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  After a ritual of entrails sacrifice (reading?), the Lord makes another specific promise: "To your descendants I give this land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates."

The psalmist expresses full trust in the Lord during some personal crisis in his life.  He renews his commitment to the Lord, whom he cherishes as his "shelter."  He has this feeling of security most strongly in "the house of the Lord."  The psalmist makes a request denied to Moses" to see God face to face.  The psalm concludes with further assurances of the psalmist's trust in the Lord's goodness and the Lord's "ways."

To a church that had been generous in the past, Paul now writes to differentiate between immediate and delayed gratification.  He appeals to the "glory" of the Lord Jesus Christ "whom we are expecting to come as a Savior" who will "make all things subject to himself."  In the meantime, Paul writes: "stand firm."

Throughout Luke's narrative he drops hints of the coming climax of volume one: "the third day."  However, before that day of vindication by God's direct action, Jesus must live out the rest of the story.  Luke writes that their are rumors about Herod's trying to track down Jesus to kill him.  But that is not how the story will pan out. Jesus must go to Jerusalem, the  place where God's action/intervention/revelation always results in acceptance/rejection:  "It is impossible for a prophet to be  killed outside Jerusalem...,"  "the city that kills prophets."  Jesus then says, Luke writes, that the day will come  when he will be greeted in the words of liturgical welcome (Psalm 118:26): "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."

No matter how assertively, or contrariwise, how meekly, God reveals God, the revelation gets entangled in and co-opted by human politics, nationalisms or other "isms," social systems and even religious structures.  In the Hebrew scriptures, God's self-revelation is linked to specific places, including the guarantee of a "promised land," which is today's reading from  Genesis.  For the devout, the epicenter of the glorious history of God's revelation is the Temple on the holy mountain, which the psalmist equates with the Lord's "shelter," in Jerusalem.  Therefore, there is a certain inevitability in the narratives about Jesus that culminate in Jerusalem, "the city that kills the prophets."  God's self-revelations complicate human questions.  They undercut human institutions, traditions and loyalties,  And, as has been shown repeatedly, they are too frequently used to merely re-enforce preexisting prejudices and assumptions.  

Jacques Derrida has meditated on this juxtaposition of revelation and human complications in The Gift of Death.  There he writes: "...the place where the sacrifice of Abraham or of Isaac... is said to have occurred, is the place where Solomon decided to build the House of the Lord in Jerusalem, as well as the place where God appeared to Solomon's father, David.  However, it is also the place of the grand Mosque of Jerusalem, the place called the Dome of the Rock near the grand mosque of El Aksa where the sacrifice of Ibrahim is supposed to have taken pace, and from where Mahomet was transported on horseback toward paradise after his death.  It is just above the destroyed temple of Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall, not far from the Way of the Cross.  It is therefore a holy place but also a place in dispute, radically and rabidly, fought over by the monotheisms, by all the religions of the unique and transcendent God, of the absolute other."  "Isaac's sacrifice continues everyday." (p.70) 

God's self-revelations speaks words but say things we barley grasp and too easily distort. We want to grab them, own them, rather than the other way round.  Even when they come to us meekly and helpless, as did Jesus, we feel viscerally threatened.  Why?  There is no such thing as human moral progress.  "...[S]acrifice continues everyday."  The story Luke tells about Jesus, which culminates in Jerusalem, as it "must,"  is in real time, our real time. Yet, the One comes, willingly walks, eyes-wide-open, into the place of human confusion and violence.  Gently, sweetly this One comes.  "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." We cannot extricate ourselves from this coming.  Despite everything that has happened, God takes the risks and comes to us again... and again... and again....