Monday, January 10, 2011

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany Year A

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; I Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

The Lord presents the case against the Lord's people, summoning the "mountains and hills" and the "enduring foundations" as witnesses, in Micah's unforgettable scene.  These people, the Lord argues,  owe their very existence to the Lord's mighty acts of salvation, from their miraculous rescue from slavery up to and including the dramatic reversal of King Balak from cursing God's people to blessing them.  The response (vv 3-5) begins feebly:  What do I have to show in my defence?  "Shall I come with burnt offerings...."  Even "thousands of rams and ten of thousands of rivers of oil?"  Then comes the surprising answer.  All the Lord really wants in response is "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

Who is prepared to enter the Lord's holy place, the psalmist asks?  The person who "does justice,"  "speaks truth." keeps her promises, does not exploit people, comes the answer.  Whoever "does this/will never stumble."

The scandal of the public humiliation and execution of Jesus is the inspiration for some of Paul's most eloquent moments.  God's "wisdom" is totally unlike human wisdom.  And, that is perfectly clear in the cross!  Therefore, those who have had the best preparation (philosophical and even religious, in particular Jews and Greeks in Paul's milieu) "stumble" over the paradox and scandal of the cross.  But to those who were "chosen," even if their primary formation and identity were as Jew or Greek, "Christ is [now] the power of God and the wisdom of God."  Just look at yourselves, Paul writes:  In the eyes of the world many of you were nothing or even less than nothing.  Yet, out of your "nothingness" God is making something!  "God chose what is weak in the world... what is despised..." to accomplish God's work in the world.

Only Matthew and Luke provide a summary of Jesus' teaching; each is quite distinctive.  Luke focuses on those who are literally poor, hungry and hated for their discipleship whereas Mathew focuses on "the poor in spirit,"  "who mourn,"  "the meek,"  "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,"  "the merciful,"  "the pure in heart,"  "the peacemakers."  Accept the derision of those who mock you, Matthew writes Jesus said, believing you will receive a quite different kind of outcome.

Micah imagines the Lord looming over all creation, summoning it's very foundations to witnesses the serious charges raised against the Lord's people.  The response at least acknowledges that staggering quantities of sacrificial offering are useless against such overwhelming charges.  Just when the situation seems dead-locked  with no realistic resolution, the answer comes without fanfare or complications.  All the Lord wants/expects in response to all that has already been given to you is to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.  What a 'simple' solution to such complicated questions.  'Simple' because it seems so obvious; anything but simple in executing these behaviours  in the 'real' world.  Yet, the biblical promise is do not be deceived by such 'simplicity' nor underestimate it's power to accomplish amazing things.   The psalmist echoes the same dynamic.  Can anyone be worthy?  Yes, whoever "does justice."  It is a serious mistake to reduce the summary of Jesus' teaching in Matthew's narrative to a code of ethics or even a sermon from a mount.  It is more like a dazzling revelation that at first disorients then enlighten; that turns everything upside-down (or right side-up depending on the perspective!).  Basic actions, of which anyone is capable with or without any particular preparation-- mercy, peacemaking, "doing" justice-- are the true and actual 'secrets' to a rewarding life.  But the fact that gives this 'teaching' its authenticity is the cross.  The cross, Paul writes, illustrates and illuminates and embodies God's "wisdom."  

"Standing before Christ on the Cross,"  Jean-Luc Marion writes in Prolegomena to Charity, I cannot pass without taking notice, because even passing by without taking notice constitutes a decision.  I must therefore decide for myself: no one decides for me, and yet I decide for myself because I am confronted with the fact of Christ in the Cross."  (p. 120)  "...I must make my decision faced with Christ on the Cross-- a crucial crisis in every sense-- because he reveals himself simply as the Son that he is to God.  God imposes and requires that I say either yes or no to his charity...." (p121)  "Charity cannot, from the sole fact that it appears publicly, fail to cause a scandal and arouse a crisis."  The Cross "reveals itself, charity offers itself...."  ""Charity alone is worthy of faith...." (p.122)