Saturday, June 26, 2010

Proper 9 Year C

Proper 9 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

II Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30 OR Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-8; Galatians 6:[1-6],7-16; Luke 10:1-11,16-20

 (For comments about II Kings 5:1-14, see Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B)

The psalmist rises from utter despair-- "the pit," "Sheol"-- to mountain-like confidence due to the Lord's help.


The Book of Isaiah includes dire judgments as well as swelling bouts of sheer joy.  Here the text invites readers to "Rejoice"  because of the prospects of a restored, prosperous, secure Jerusalem.  Vivid metaphors convey the restorative work of the Lord: a woman's breast swelling with milk, a river that brings commerce, an indulgent mother dotting on her infant.  "...[Y]our bodies shall flourish like the grass...."

The psalmist sees the Lord at work in the "awesome" deeds of creation, the defining miracle when the chosen walked "through the torrent on dry land," and in the fate of other nations.

Paul applies his gospel to controversies vexing the church in Galatia.  He advises his readers to deal with backsliders in "a spirit of gentleness," minding your own failures, too, for the sake of the community of believers.  Then he leaps to a general point: "let us work for the good of all, especially for those of the family of faith."  He then tackles a persistent controversy that threatened to split churches: the status of the circumcised and uncircumcised in the church.  Neither status matters, he concludes, only "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ...."  "For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!"

Luke seems to have adapted and expanded a story similar to Matthew's sending of the Twelve (9:37-10:16).  In Luke's narrative, opposition to Jesus is becoming more intense and direct wherever he goes.  Luke conveys a feeling that time is running out as Jesus and those gathered around him get closer to Jerusalem. Luke writes that Jesus commissioned seventy to go "on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go."  He warns them they will be "like lambs into the midst of wolves."  He instructs them to travel lightly and not dally with routine pleasantries.  They are to stay where they are welcomed in peace and quickly move on where they are not.  Then he gives them the core of their mission" "Cure the sick... and say 'The Kingdom of God has come near you'."  Tell those who are not welcoming also that God's reign has just come close to them.  Here Luke includes a critical saying: Anyone who hears you hears me; anyone who rejects you rejects me as well as the One who sent me!  Only Luke includes that the seventy returned and reported on their successes, "Lord, even demons are subject to us in your name."  But Jesus admonishes them not to gloat in their new found powers, but to take greater satisfaction that their work advances God's work: "your names are written in heaven."

Especially Luke's no nonsense account of the way Jesus commissioned his followers to go ahead of him and prepare people for his coming emphasizes concrete results and a very specific message.  He gives  them one task, "cure the sick" and tells them to disregard everything else.  He also instructs them to convey the same message to those who are and those who are not receptive to them-- you have just come very close to God's work in the world.  The story of Namaan in archetypal.  Here is an accomplished, sophisticated, successful, well-connected man who understands the way the world works and has used it to his advantage.  When a simple worker in his household tells him how he can be cured of the one condition over which he has had no results, he goes about it in the ways that have worked so successfully for him all his life, but fail him now.  Finally, he follows the simple directions of God's humble servant, Elisha, and he is cured.  Paul addresses the greatest controversy in the church in his lifetime and impatiently writes none of it matters!  "...[B]ut a new creation is everything."  Today's readings and gospel elevate tangible results over every other consideration.

Religion in Western Modernity has been problemitized by the ideologies of philosophies, sociologies, science and, in particular ways, politics.  Huge battles were launched over competing ideologies.  Churches became obsessed with these battles within their own communities, with other Christian communities and with secular forces.  

Ludwig Wittgenstein' s life's work included a thorough, total re-examination of the foundations of Western ways of thinking.  He taught that we had become seduced ("bewitched,") by the elixir of words and concepts so much that we in the West privilege abstractions over reality, words over specific individuals, things and actions, the metaphysical over the actual.  In his short, rich study Theology after Wittgenstein, Fergus Kerr summarizes: "What is primary and foundational, according to Wittgenstein, is... neither ideas nor beliefs nor any other class of mere events, but human beings in a multiplicity of transactions with one another."  (p. 119)  In Culture and Value, Wittgenstein himself wrote: "The point is that sound doctrine need not take hold of you; you can follow it as you would a doctor's prescription.-- But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction."  And here we hear a distinct echo of Paul: none of the other stuff matters; "a new creation is everything."  Wittgenstein is not saying "doctrine" does not matter, it's just not to be an obsession that obliterates real, actual results in the lives of specific people we know and can name, including ourselves.  Jesus gave clear, simple instructions "cure the sick," ignore everything else and tell any you encounter, you have just witnessed God's work in the world.  Paul brushes aside every controversy, including the one that threatened to tear the church apart, and elevates the "cross of Christ" and a "new creation" above every other distraction.  Having tried all the usual ways of the world that had worked so well thus far in his life, Namaan finally followed the simple instructions of God's messenger and was healed.  Results matter.