RCL – June 10, 2012 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20 with Psalm 138
Genesis 3:8-15 with Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
All the scriptures this week point to something less than desirable in human beings. The tendency to not listen to a prophetic word is highlighted in the 1 Samuel reading. Psalm 138 reminds us that we need God for strength and purpose. The Genesis lesson points out a reluctance to accept responsibility for poor choices that, apparently, goes back the early days of human existence. Next, Psalm 130 makes it clear that only God can redeem us, especially when we are in the depths. While the 2 Corinthians passage offers encouragement, it addresses the desire to give up when faced with affliction or adversity. This list of unpleasant aspects of human nature, concludes with the Gospel reading. This story points at a serious reluctance to accept change that threatens the status quo. Put all these together and I can’t help but think that the writer of Ecclesiastes was correct all those thousands of years ago: There is nothing new under the sun.
Clearly, each of these passages could provide enough for many blog entries. But today, I want to focus on the Gospel lesson while keeping in mind the themes of the other readings. In this passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus presents a challenge to a whole lot of people in more than one way. It seems Jesus was developing a reputation for casting out demons that made both the religious authorities and his family rather uncomfortable. It seems that the acceptable thing to do with people who were possessed by demons was to ignore them or avoid them. Jesus, of course, thought otherwise. He didn’t avoid them at all; he healed them. And crowds gathered.
The crowds were probably the usual blend of people who gather to observe the phenomenal. Some wanted or needed the healing Jesus offered. Some wanted to report Jesus’ misdeeds to the authorities. Some wanted a share in the notoriety. Some just needed something to do. But crowds of people hanging about are obnoxious. So Jesus’ family tried to intervene. Maybe their intentions were good. Who wants to hear a family member being called “crazy” or “possessed” or other such things. Then Jesus pointed out that he was where he wanted to be with his newly named family members.
Given the state of the world today, I am endlessly fascinated by such passages as this one. Jesus was doing something that was just “not done.” Not only was he not ignoring people who were unclean or outcasts, he touched them, spoke to them, healed them, and claimed them as brothers and sisters. Jesus’ way of being in the world was such a radical departure from the social norm that he was accused of being possessed by the very evil he was casting out of people. He was rejected as crazy and, of course, ultimately killed to put an end to the chaos he tended to cause.
Jesus changed everything. And, I think, we’ve missed it. We cling to rules. We blame others when things don’t work out. We seek power more often than justice. We forget how much we need grace. Jesus didn’t care much for religious rules or social etiquette. Yet, most Christians cling to these things. When I was ordained 20 years ago, I was warned about the “seven last words of the church” – We’ve never done it that way before. I had no idea how much truth there was behind that quip that caused a bit of laughter in the congregation that day. I have a better idea these days how reluctant church folk are to change anything, really.
Lately, I’ve realized that this applies to more than the church. Politics are full of promises to “preserve” or “protect” or “maintain.” Why did the bill for equal pay for women not pass? Why is there an argument over equal marriage? Why do gas prices remain high when there is plenty in reserve and American reliance on gasoline has decreased? Why are there people in the world who go hungry when there is more than enough food on the planet? Why is healthcare access so limited when there are enough physical resources to meet the existing need? Why are so many countries facing economic depression? Why is retaliation expected and accepted as a response to violence?
If we paid attention to the way Jesus lived his life, I really think the world would be a different place. Our resources – personal, local, national, and global – would be used much more effectively. Jesus would tell us that it is definitely our responsibility to care for those who are not able to care for themselves – near or far, Christian or not, American or not. There has got to be a better way of existing on this planet. And this week’s scripture readings point toward it.
Pay attention to the prophetic words past and present – Jesus knew what he was doing. Quit turning our needs for strength and purpose into power over others and material success. Take responsibility for what we say and do; blaming someone else or circumstances explains choices (maybe) but it doesn’t excuse bad behavior. Justice often is uncomfortable; comfort doesn’t necessarily mean good. Change and chaos and unpredictability open the doors for miraculous transformation.
It might just be time for some craziness. Either that, or keep doing everything the way we’ve always done it and watch churches decline, economies fail, and despair and desperation increase. Doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me…