Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany Year A

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Isaiah 49:-816a; Psalm 131; I Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

Although Israel's international and national fortunes may (will) rise and fall, the text of Isaiah reminds God's people of God's "covenant to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritage..." with the result that prisoners and those "in darkness" will be set free and abundant food and water for all.  The Lord's restoration will bring the people back home in time for rejoicing: "for the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones."  Whenever God's people wonder if God has abandoned them, they should ask themselves:  "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child in her womb?"  But even if such a woman were to forget, "yet I will not forget you."  You are "inscribed" in the palms of the Lord's hands.

The psalmist expresses her contentment to/with the Lord: "like a weaned baby on its mother/like a weaned baby I am content."  Therefore, the instruction for God's people: "Wait... for the Lord/now and evermore."

Paul advises to withhold judgement against him, others and even yourself for now.  "...[T]he Lord... will bring to light things now hidden in darkness and disclose the purposes of the heart."

Matthew's text (following Luke, 12:22-31, very closely) records a very remarkable teaching of Jesus who asks his hearers to look at the extravagant abundance, splendor and beauty of everything around them and then ask themselves why they should be consumed with anxiety?  "Strive for righteousness..." and all your (perceived) needs -- and more!-- "will be given to you as well."

Isaiah's reminder is still surprising.  The Lord is doing the reminding.  And the reminder is-- the Lord's goodness/compassion for you is stronger than even a mother for her child, even before birth.  God's love, like a mother's, (obviously!) preceded you; it was already there before you knew anything about it, could question it or even ask for it.  It was just there, waiting for you.  Actually, you would not even exist without it! Matthew's record of Jesus' teaching still disarms.  Jesus invites us to look at all that surrounds us daily in a different way.  See the sheer abundance and beauty, which preceded you, was and will be there with or without your choice, and then come to realize: if all this exists in its own synergy and extravagance, then why am I undone with anxiety.  Discover the way to be responsible, but not overwhelmed, with life's troubles.  Choose to see myself as a recipient, one who has been gifted, a beneficiary in a world of unimaginable generosity.

As we know, the realization of one's "giftedness" is central to the work of Jean-Luc Marion.  In Being Given: Toward  A Phenomenology of Giveness, he, too, ponders this same realization that we are, from our very beginning, recipients.  Marion writes:    "The gifted is late ever since his birth precisely because he is born; he is late from birth precisely because he must first be born.  There is none among the living who did not first have to be born, that is to say, arise belatedly from his parents in the attentive circle of waiting for words that summoned him before he could understand them or guess their meaning.  This observation is not at all trivial since it inscribes before and more essentially than mortality the gifted in his gap from the call.  My birth, which fixes my most singular identity even more than my existence, nevertheless, happens without and before me-- without my having to know it, or say a word, without my knowing or foreseeing anything."  "I am born from a call that I neither made, wanted, nor even understood.  Birth consists only in this excess of the call and in the delay of my responsal." (pp 289-290)

These biblical texts, which become amplified as we re-read Marion's own unique insights, invite me to try on a new identity for myself-- as one whose very existence and position in the world is dependent on a web of caring that preceded me and will outlast me and to which I can contribute.  And to attribute this extraordinary situation to the One who has the infinite capacity to set this all in motion, sustain it and invite those who accept the invitation to become co-benefactors.  In the explicit language of Isaiah-- as a mother, or even more than a mother for her children; or the wonderful imagery of the gospels-- our place in God's sheer beauty and bounty.