Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Proper 22 Year C

Proper 22 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

 Lamentations 1:1-6; (for the psalm) Lamentations 3:-19-26; OR Psalm 137; OR Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-10; II Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

The writer of this laments or dirge over the destruction of Jerusalem personifies the City as a "widow,"  and as a "princess [who] has become a vassal."  She weeps over her loss throughout the night.  She once had many admirers, lovers and friends.  The writer now turns to a more prosaic description of desolate Jerusalem.  The population has been taken away into "exile and servitude."  The roads to Zion, once crowed with pilgrims, are now empty.  "Her foes have become the masters...."  Zion has lost all her "majesty."  The leaders have become like "stags that find no pasture."

Echoing the psalms (22, 88 and 143, for examples), the writer of Lamentations turns from despair to hope.  "When I remember this, I have hope: by God's loving kindness we are not destroyed;/for God's mercies are never-ending/and are new every morning."  "You are good to those who wait with patience...."


Presumably in response to the same crisis that impelled the writer of Lamentations-- the destruction of Jerusalem and deportation of her citizens to Babylon-- this psalm declares that it is impossible to sing "Zion's songs," as requested by their captors.  "How can we sing a song of the Lord/on foreign soil?"  If she wants to forget Jerusalem, the psalmist sings, "may my right hand wither/may my tongue cleave to my palate...."  She cannot wait for revenge against Babylon.


A man of conscience, "Habakkuk," is distressed by the times in which he lives: "Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?"  "So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails."  The writer says he will station himself so he can hear the Lord's response.  "Then the Lord answered me and said: write the vision..." so large and plain even a runner can read it!  "[T]here is still a vision for the appointed time...."  It describes how things will actually end.  "If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come...."  "[T]he righteous live by their faith."

Do not be envious when it seems as if "evil doers" are getting away with their actions, the psalmist writes, "they will quickly wither...."  Rather, "Trust in the Lord and do good...."  "Trust" the Lord and the Lord will "bring forth your cause like the lights/and your justice like high noon."

The writer of this "letter" to "Timothy" recalls their respective familial spiritual heritages before he exhorts him to "rekindle the gift of God that is within you...."  The writer references Paul's well-known suffering for the faith, which included imprisonment and that Paul was "appointed" as a "herald and an apostle and a teacher...."  He is not ashamed of these hardships he has endured to fulfill his calling.  "For I know in whom I have put my trust...."

Jesus returns his attention to the apostles in Luke's narrative.  In response to their request-- "Increase our faith!"-- Jesus suggests that "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed..." they could order trees to uproot themselves  and replant themselves in the sea!  He continues with an admonition unique to Luke about the expectations of discipleship.  If you are a worker who is expected to work all day for your "Master" and then prepare the evening meal, would you really expect to be invited to "Take your place at the table?"  Of course not.  You would know that you eat "later."  Nor do you expect any thanks.  Quite the contrary, "we have done only what we ought to have done." 

"You are good to those who with with patience...." (Lamentations 3:26  "There is till a vision for the appointed time....  If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come...." (Habakkuk)  "Trust in the Lord and do good...."  Psalm 37)  "I know in whom I have put my trust."  (Second Timothy)  "We have done only what we ought to have done." (Luke)

The consistent biblical injunction is to do justice whether it is convenient or not, easy of difficult, rewarded or punished, is acknowledged or ignored, requires little or demands a lot from us, arrives or seems to never come.  Why?  Because we "trust" that God brings about justice occasionally and will bring it fully one day?  Sure.  But Luke's Jesus provides a more compelling reason: so that in the end we can say "we have done only what we ought to have done."

For Emmanuel Levinas, justice was the the question that trumps all others.  In Totality and Infinity, he teases out some implications of his primary belief.  "The Other" awakens one's "moral conscience," but more than that, the Other puts "in question my freedom." (p.84)  If one allows it, consciousness of the needs of others puts me in a permanent indebtedness, "the consciousness of my injustice," as Levinas writes. (p.86)  "The Other imposes himself as an exigency that dominates this [my personal] freedom...."  (p.87)  A surprising result, Levinas continues, is that the demand of the other "does not clash with [my] freedom but invests it...."  It "invites" me "to justice." (p.88)

If the biblical priority for justice is given even the smallest consideration (as small as a "mustard seed," for instance) then that might make us re-consider our expectations.  We might want to never lose hope or trust that in ways and times only God knows justice might prevail.  And, we find renewal in the biblical promise that God's full and final justice will be the last chapter in the story.  We can also take daily comfort in the promiseparticipation in the announcement and assistance in constructing justice.  But when these expectations fail us, there is this:  "we have done only what we ought to have done."