Friday, September 10, 2010

Proper 21 Year C

Proper 21 C
 (Revised Common Lectionary)

 Jeremiah 32:1-3a,6-15; Psalm 91:1-6,14-16 OR Amos 6:1a,4-7; Psalm 146; I Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

Jerusalem is already under siege and the nation's future is bleak; not a reasonable time to make an investment in real estate.  Yet, under "the word of the Lord," that is just what Jeremiah does.  He buys a piece of land his cousin is eager to unload before the bottom drops out of the market.   Jeremiah insists that every financial and legal formality be completed on duplicate copies of the deed "in order that they may last for a long time."  Why?  "For thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought and sold in this land."

The psalmist expresses personal confidence in "my God in whom I trust."  The Lord's care can be compared to a mother fowl who enfolds her young in her wings for protection, safety and warmth or to a "shield."  Now God speaks (14-16), declaring consistent response and satisfaction to the one who trusts.


Amos describes in vivid detail the lavish, self-indulgent lifestyle of "those who feel secure..." right now.  They are not concerned about he "ruin of Joseph," (God's covenant).  As a result, when times change, "they shall now be the first to go into exile...." 

The psalmist exhorts herself to praise the Lord "while I breathe."  In contrast to those who hold power for awhile, but inevitably lose it, "Jacob's God" is the God of "hope," who "keeps faith forever...."  This God is known consistently and primarily by a passion for "justice" for those who, no matter what era or place, are always the most vulnerable in any society-- the oppressed, hungry, prisoners, blind, crippled, orphans and widows.  By contrast, "the wicked" get entangled in their own machinations.

Timothy's correspondent addresses the corrosive effect  money can have and the false sense of security it can seem to offer.   Remain focused on godly virtues and faithful to the "good confession" you made "in the presence of many witnesses," he writes.  Only "our Lord Jesus Christ" who is our "blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" has "immortality and dwells in unapproachable light" endures.  As for those who are wealthy at any particular time (but who can lose it all at any time  and most certainly will take "nothing" with them), they should, instead, "be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share..."  so that "they [too] may take hold of the life that really is life."

Jesus' attention is now back on the Pharisees, to whom he tells this parable, which is unique to Luke, of two men whose lives could hardly be more different.  One is very rich, who indulges every creature comfort in excess; the other is so destitute that he begs at the door of the rich man and is covered in sores which "even the dogs come to lick...."  Each man dies.  The destitute Lazarus is "carried away by the angels to be with Abraham;"  the rich man went to "Hades," where he was being tormented."  The rich man saw Abraham with Lazarus at his side and begs for mercy: "send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue...."  But Abraham reminds the man of their reverse circumstances before death.  Moreover, there is "a great chasm" and "no one can cross from there to us."  Then the man then pleads that Abraham send Lazarus to warn his five brothers.  But Abraham replies that they already have the testimony of the Torah and the prophets.  The man assumes  that if "someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent."  But Abraham responds, "'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Due to "the word of the Lord," Jeremiah has confidence in the continuation of life, even when common sense sees no evidence for it; therefore, always be willing to 'invest' in the future because of "the word of the Lord."  The psalmist (91) has learned to trust the Lord, who is as reliable as a mother hen for her young.  Amos matter-of-factly knows that "those who feel secure" due to some temporary period of affluence yet who forget God's covenant will be the first to feel the consequences when circumstances change.  Psalm 146 contrasts the temporary dominance of those on top at any point in time with "Jacob's God" who is constant and reliably know by a passion for justice.  Luke's Jesus makes the same point as the prophets and turns it into a story about two men whose fate are reversed when a reckoning comes. 

These themes recur throughout the Torah, the prophets, the psalms and of course the gospels-- all human circumstance are always temporary, therefore, trust/ "invest" in the One whose passion for justice always will endure.  Sometimes in blunt prose, such as Amos, or the poetry of the psaltery or story-telling, as with Luke, the reader/hearer is invited to step off the treadmill of the demands of conventional wisdom and everyday pressure and look at things from God's perspective.

A main concern of Martin Heidegger in Being and Time is "the possibility of authentic existence" (his emphasis).  He catalogues all the ways we are consumed by what seems important in life and get caught up in conventional values.  Such behavior is reinforced by the behavior of everyone else who is just as consumed.  One of the ways this spell can be broken is when we realize that one day we will no longer exist and all that we thought was vital actually turns out to look very different all of a sudden.  Heidegger writes that such an interruption to our accepted norms can cause an "ownmost possibility" for suddenly and clearly seeing life from a new angle.  But  this is not just a new insight it is also a new level of "understanding."  He writes:  'It must be noted that understanding does not primarily mean just gazing at a meaning, but rather understanding oneself in that potential-for-Being which reveals itself in projection." (p 307)  

This seems to be a concern of biblical narratives, too.  Do not be misled by your current circumstances, which, given the vagaries of life, can change in an instant, but rather trust/"invest" in what will endure; God and God's passion for justice!

N.B. To these recurring biblical themes, Luke adds an original twist.  He writes that Jesus tells his listeners-- Listen!  The Torah and the prophets have already told you everything you need to hear to have a change of heart; you do not need to have some spectacular display of the miraculous, such as someone coming back from he dead, to tell you what you can already discover on your own, right now!  (The voluntary death and resurrection of the Christ, therefore, is more evidence of God's extravagant wooing of us; it is on the same continuum with all the God did before Him and since and still is doing.)