Friday, July 23, 2010

Proper 13 Year C

Proper 13C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9,43; OR Ecclesiastes 1:2.12-14,2:8-23; Psalm 49:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

This moving confession of God's love for Israel entangles God's awesome, absolute power with love as gentle and tender as a parent for his or her own child.  In its childhood, God regarded Israel as God's own first-born.  In time, the rebellious youth pursued other gods, although "they did not know" it was God who nurtured and loved them.  They are now on a path back to slavery, literally going back to Egypt or under another very present threat, Assyria.   Everything sacred will be destroyed in their unison prayers to Baal.  Although Israel seems to persist in a willful denial of their parental history with God, God cannot forget it: "How can I hand you over, Ephraim/how can I give you up, Israel"  "A change of heart moves me," God reveals.  Israel will not suffer the consequences it deserves.  Why? "...I am God, not a mortal; I am the Holy One in your midst...."

The psalmist recalls a desperate time in Israel's history when they had been scattered, hungry and thirsty, wandering in the wilderness.  "They cried to the Lord... and the Lord saved them."  The wise person recalls these memories and "takes to heart the Lord's kindness."


Because of its unrelenting negativity about the foundational biblical claim of God's love for Israel, Ecclesiastes is at the "far edge" of a "counter-testimony" in the Hebrew scriptures, Walter Brueggemann writes, (Theology of the Old Testament, 393ff).  All human effort ends in nothingness.  Everything I have achieved in my life, "the Teacher" writes, will come to nothing and there is no guarantee my heirs will do any better.  "So I turned and gave my heart to despair...."  Even at night, I cannot find peace.

Echoing the sentiment of the futility of all human efforts to accumulate wealth as a from of security, the psalmist regards death as the great equalizer.  Those "who trust in their wealth/and boast of great riches--/redeem no one"  The smart and the stupid both "abandon to others their wealth"when they die.

The writer to Christians in Colossae writes that "If you have been raised with Christ..." your priorities shift from conventional passions, some of which he lists, to a "new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator."  Through Christ, that renewal is open to all, regardless of all past loyalties and identities.

In a story unique to Luke's narrative, Jesus is asked to settle a dispute between two brothers regarding their father's inheritance.  But Jesus takes a pass and instead warns about the deeper issue to which both brothers (and all human beings) are susceptible:  "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."  He then tells a story about a successful man whose life had been devoted to accumulating more and more wealth.  Just when the man thought he had finally achieved enough security and now he could "eat, drink and be merry," that very night it was all to end.  Who will enjoy all that he accumulated then?  "So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." 

Biblical narratives do not use esoteric, specialized language to discuss concepts, principles or any kinds of abstractions; they use plain, ordinary, everyday language to reach a life or death conclusion on which one can stake one's life.  Today's appointed readings and gospel answer the question:  When I come to the end of my life, what will I have discovered mattered the most?  And they answer this question with an urgency that impels us to discover that the sooner we answer that question, the fuller our lives can be.  In a plain sentence of mostly monosyllabic words, Jesus says: "one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."  The nihilistic conclusion of "the Teacher," echoed by the psalmist states just as clearly the inevitable result of not making that discovery in time: "I gave my heart to despair."

In his essay, "The Logic of Jesus, the Logic of God," (found in  Figuring the Sacred), Paul Ricoeur writes first "of human logic, our logic."  Although he is writing about specific human assumptions about fairness and justice, his contrasting insights can be applied to most human assumptions about value, equivalency.  "But the logic of God, the logic of Jesus, the logic of Paul is quite another matter.  This logic is one of excess, of superabundance."  (p 279)  Deciding and living one's life through "the logic of superabundance"-- which Ricoeur finds instigated in the biblical experience of creation, Torah, parables of Jesus, his cross and resurrection-- turns nihilism inside out.  It replaces fear, hoarding, futility with generosity and hope.  "Hope means the 'superabundance ' of meaning as opposed to the abundance of senselessness, of failure, of destruction," Ricoeur writes in another essay in the same collection.  And then he continues: "for seen from the standpoint of hope, life is not only the contrary of but the denial of death.... (emphasis added)  It interprets in a creative way the signs of superabundance of life in spite of death."  (pp 206-207)  The personal tragedy of hoarding is that we die before death comes to us and only then do we realize that we had been dead for years!  Misplaced security leads to cynical assumptions; deciding that life is a gift of "superabundance" of which I am a recipient and can be a beneficiary to others leads to generosity, hope, action and the possibility that we will have really lived before we finally die.  It cheats death in all its forms!