Friday, October 1, 2010

Proper 25 Year C

Proper 25 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; OR Sirach 35:12-17; OR Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22; Psalm 84:1-6; II Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14

The text of the Book of Joel has, so far, dwelt on the travails of God's people, but now (vv18ff) breaks out in exuberant promise of something totally new.  Walter Brueggemann describes these "oracle promises" (vv28-29) as "Yahweh's life-giving, exile- resisting, death-overcoming force-- [which] will be let loose in the world." (Theology of the Old Testament, p.648)  Everyone will experience the Lord's spirit-- all generations, male and female, (including "slaves").  There will be "portents in  the heavens and also on earth....."

The psalmist begs for God's help against "wrongdoers,"  whose words are "shot" like arrows out of the darkest places of the heart and cause chaos and destruction.  "But God will shoot an arrow at them/In a flash they will be struck down."  They will get tangled up in their own words.  When "all" see what happens to them, "all" will "tell of God's act...."


By the time of the text of Sirach, God's behavior is well known in the Torah and prophets:  the Lord gives us more ("seven-fold") than we ever give God.  God cannot be "bribed."  God gives a fair hearing to the "wronged," and the orphan and widow "when she pours out her complaint."


At this point, Jeremiah is still pleading for the Lord to re-kindle the lapsed relationship with the Lord's people.  "Although our iniquities testify against us... our apostasies are many... why should you be like a stranger..." or a passerby?  You are still "in the midst of us" and we are still "called by your name...."  Although the people see no sign of the Lord's engagement,  "We set our hope on you...."

The psalmist describes the Lord's Temple as "lovely," which is a word, according to Robert Alter, that "conveys a virtually erotic intensity...."  (The Book of Psalms, p. 297)  "Happy" are those who "dwell in Your house!"

This "letter" concludes with Timothy's mentor alluding to Paul's fate (martyrdom) and his confidence that he has "fought the good fight... finished the race... kept the faith."  Although everyone else "deserted" him-- ("May it not be counted against them")-- the Lord did not!   To God "be glory forever and ever. Amen."

In another story told by Jesus which we have only in Luke's narrative, two men go to make their prayers.  The first begins by rehearsing his virtues, especially in contrast to others, in particular the person next to him; the other person "would not even look up to heaven" and said simply, "'God be merciful to me, a sinner!'"  In another Lucan twist, Jesus says it is this person who went home "justified."  "...[F]or all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." 

The biblical testimony is clear: God is passionate about justice; seeks allies wherever they can be found; honors historic relationships (covenants)  but will bypass preexisting relationships (but never abandon them), if necessary; and expects allies to be just as committed as  God to justice, especially for those who are always at any disadvantage due to prevailing social norms.

With Joel and Sirach, we can acknowledge that God does not value the same criteria as we, such as gender, worthiness, age,  social status nor perceived moral worth.  And the corollary is that before God, all of us and each of us in his or her own ways, stands just as eligible as anyone else for God's generosity, which is always more ("seven" times) than anything we ever give God.  Therefore, humility dismantles our vanities and prepares us for relationship with God and others, as the distinctive story told by Jesus in  Luke's narrative makes clear.  Luce Irigary links relationship with God and others as inexorably as biblical texts.  She regards relationship with others as "horizontal transcendence" and God as the permanent "guarantor" of "alterity," or irreducible "otherness," which we discover in others.  In The Way of Love, Irigaray writes about the loss that occurs when other persons get defined by traits, "Everything becomes images, external or internal, in which the look also becomes extrapolated from itself, taken away into the spectacle, without a possible return." ( p.141)  The other person becomes regarded  by his or her gender, age, status, perceived worth and, in the process, relationship is lost with that person as well as "vertically."  She continues, "The relationship to the other, present here and now, beside or in front of me on the earth has been little cultivated as a horizontal dimension of human becoming.  Now this dimension is probably even more specific to humanity than verticality, if at least it involves the respect for the other in their irreducibility, their transcendence." (p.145)

What would have happened to the person who spent his time before God reviewing all his good deeds-- laudable in and of themselves-- had instead looked at the person praying beside him and felt gratitude for the certainty that God's goodness extends to all, regardless of worthiness, including him?  Would he have gone home "vindicated", too?   Is this a way God's "life-giving, exile-resisting, death-overcoming force" gets "let loose" in the world?